BELFIELD, N.D. – A Casper company proposing a new crude oil pipeline in southwest North Dakota has a poor track record of spills and can’t be trusted to build and operate the project safely, a coalition of labor unions says.
The Laborers International Union of North America plans to urge North Dakota regulators to reject a pipeline from Bridger Pipeline LLC, the same company responsible for an oil spill in the Yellowstone River this year.
“We support pipelines because they’re the safest, most efficient way to move oil, but only if they’re built, maintained and operated right,” said Evan Whiteford, a career pipeliner from Ray. “Unfortunately, when companies like Bridger hire contractors that apparently do low-quality work, and then fail to properly inspect and maintain the lines, accidents are more likely, the public is endangered, and our industry takes the blame.”
Tad True, vice president of Bridger, which is part of True Companies of Wyoming, said Wednesday he was surprised to hear about the protest from the labor unions and said their comments don’t paint an accurate picture of the company.
“The Yellowstone spill was a terrible accident and we sincerely regret that,” True said. “We have a very simple goal and that’s zero spills, zero injuries, zero lost time. That’s our goal, and we track that stuff very carefully and we take that extremely seriously.”
The Jan. 17 rupture of a Bridger pipeline caused an estimated 30,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the Yellowstone River and temporarily contaminated the drinking water in Glendive, Mont.
Now Bridger proposes to construct a 15-mile crude oil pipeline in Billings and Stark counties that would run parallel to an existing Bridger pipeline and increase capacity by 125,000 barrels per day.
The 16-inch pipeline would allow more oil to be transported by pipeline and take trucks off the road, True said.
Representatives of labor unions whose members build pipelines in the U.S. and Canada planned to speak out against the project Thursday during a North Dakota Public Service Commission hearing in Belfield.
The concerns about Bridger and its affiliated companies are much broader than the Yellowstone spill, Whiteford said. True Companies, which includes Bridger, Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., Black Hills Trucking and other companies, has a record of spills, safety incidents and law violations, the union representatives say.
“We want to raise the awareness that if we want this industry to keep going strong and smooth, we need to step up to the plate and make sure that these companies are held accountable for their actions,” Whiteford said.
The same union organization recently showed support for a different crude oil pipeline proposed by Dakota Access LLC.
Black Hills Trucking has been fined by North Dakota regulators for improperly dumping produced water and for operating without a permit.
Another example the labor representatives point to occurred in Wyoming. There, Bridger operated a crude oil pipeline after telling the Bureau of Land Management that the pipeline was no longer in use, said Christian Venhuizen, a BLM spokesman.
The BLM discovered the pipeline was being used last year when the pipeline spilled more than 25,000 gallons of crude oil, Venhuizen said. The BLM assessed Bridger $27,000.
True said that situation arose from turnover in the company’s land department and a permit that didn’t get handled properly.
In response to the comments about the company’s track record, True said the company goes above and beyond what is required by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. He pointed to the company's largest pipeline system, the Butte Pipeline, which he said has an incident rate that’s 40 percent better than the industry average.
“Since 2008, we have effectively doubled our effort in terms of inspecting our pipelines, in terms of monitoring our pipelines, and we’ve done a tremendous amount of effort in terms of maintaining the integrity of our pipelines,” True said.
Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said Wednesday commissioners will ask Bridger about the recent Yellowstone River spill, including what the company learned from the incident and what steps are being taken to prevent future spills.
Commissioners also will review information they received from the labor unions regarding Bridger, Fedorchak said.
“We’ll talk thoroughly, like we do in all our hearings, about their construction techniques, monitoring systems they will have in place and their response plans in the event of a spill occurring,” Fedorchak said.
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