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ND Could Be Getting Stronger Pipeline Protections

Supporters of new oil and gas pipeline regulations say if they're adopted North Dakota could become a safer state for industry workers and for farmland owners. (iStockphoto)
Supporters of new oil and gas pipeline regulations say if they're adopted North Dakota could become a safer state for industry workers and for farmland owners. (iStockphoto)
June 29, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota energy officials today are poised to make some serious changes to how the state regulates its growing network of oil, wastewater and methane gas pipelines. The North Dakota Industrial Commission is deciding whether to finalize new regulations aimed at improving how the state's pipelines are built and operated.

If the new rules are approved, said Evan Whiteford, North Dakota organizer for the Laborers' International Union, the state could move from back of the pack to become a leader when it comes to protecting communities and the environment from the risks associated with oil and gas development.

"There's a lot of poor worker practices that could be fixed," he said. "With these regulations, it's going to force contractors to do things the right way instead of cutting corners. One of the biggest issues you see out here is land reclamation. The problems that you don't see are buried under the ground, and that's what's got a lot of concern going out there right now."

Some in the oil and gas industry do not like the new regulations, saying they are unnecessary and too costly. But environmental protection groups have said the state has few safeguards to prevent pipeline incidents both for landowners and workers.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, North Dakota's oil and gas industry has the nation's highest rate of worker deaths. In addition to keeping workers safe, Whiteford said, preventing spills and other incidents also could save the state money on clean-up costs. He also argued that the new rules could help keep farmers from losing money as well.

"There is definitely a risk of putting people in danger," he said, "not so much physically, but more or less their livelihoods with their farming and their ranching. You contaminate the soil, you contaminate the water, that's people's livelihoods up here."

If approved, the new rules could go into effect as early as October. As they're written now, the new regulations could address problems including adding more environmental controls to protect wetlands, and adding best practices such as requiring that pipelines be installed on blocks or cones to prevent corrosion.

The pipeline rules are online at dmr.nd.gov.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND