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North Dakota Public Service Commissioners press Belle Fourche on its leak detection

DICKINSON — Belle Fourche is still using the same meters that it was using on the Centennial pipeline that failed in 2016, spilling an estimated 12,615 barrels of crude into the Ash Coulee Creek in December of 2016.

A hillside in the area had slumped, breaking the line, but the leak went unreported for several days. Oil is still coming out of the hillside.

While the meters the company is using for its leak detection are still the same, the company has changed a number of its procedures and practices, to ensure there will not be a repeat of the problems that led to such a large spill going unnoticed until a landowner reported it.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak pressed the company on the key markers that it missed in the Ash Coulee spill, and asked the company to explain what will be different this time with the Skunk Hill pipeline that it’s now seeking to convert. That line is not only in close proximity to the Heart River, but crosses underneath it.

Ken Dockweiler, director of Land, Government and Compliance for Belle Fourche Pipeline testified that there were two main things employees missed in the Ash Coulee spill.

The first related to the variability of volumes going into the line, which caused confusion about what should be coming out of it, and the second was lack of confidence in a particular meter.

“So the meter was faulty before and they ignored it longer than they should?” Fedorchak asked. “Is that what happened?”

Dockweiler replied that the company had its first indication on Dec. 3 from the meter. The control room and field office communicated about the situation, as they should.

“It was decided to get out Monday morning to fix the meter again,” Dockweiler said.

However, instead, a landowner called the state and reported the presence of oil in his field.

Since then, the company has had the manufacturer of the meters in question come in to verify that all of them are set up correctly and are functioning as they should be.

They are also collecting information more often now. In the case of the Skunk Hill line, data will be pulled every two to four seconds from the Skunk Hill meter into the pipeline and again where it leaves the pipeline to enter the refinery.

Pressure will be monitored along the line as well, which is now a fixed, point A to Point B, volume in-volume out line, otherwise referred to as a transmission line.

Among other steps the company is now taking, new controllers are being paired with more seasoned employees, to mentor them and ensure they are not only well-trained, but have someone they can go to to ask questions if they run into something odd.

Protocol-wise, the controllers are also now charged with shutting down the system if anything doesn’t seem right. After that both field supervisor and control room supervisor must agree that everything is OK before the line is turned back on.

“We have also mimicked some leaks on the system,” Dockweiler said.

This is done by setting up a hydraulic fracturing tank by a valve and opening the system into the tank to create a small leak, to see how fast it will be seen.

“We don’t tell the controllers,” Dockweiler added. “It’s been a neat training tool to see.”

The company was also pressed on why it was still using manual block valves by the river crossing.

Dockweiler said one of the valves is actually automated, and that the company would be open to changing out the other valve to make it automatic.

All three commissioners also pressed the company on why its application for the conversion took so long. The company has actually already converted the line, and began the application process 20 months ago after learning from staff that they needed to.

“I won’t make the case it was reasonable,” Dockweiler said.

At a meeting with PSC staff, it was determined that the line was now a transmission line, and thus fell under new regulatory oversight. Dockweiler said the company was actually working on three pipelines based on that conversation, trying to get all of them in front of the PSC at once.

“Did staff suggest that is the way to do it?” Fedorchak asked.

“You know, I don’t recall that they suggested it,” Dockweiler said. “In hindsight, it wasn’t the right call, which is why there are two in front of you.”

A hearing for the second conversion is Tuesday in Watford City.

Dockweiler said he did not leave the meeting with PSC staff with any sense from them that there was particular urgency to get the permits done.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality put in a rare appearance at the Public Service Commission meeting in Dickinson, to urge that the PSC consider a third-party audit to ensure the company’s protocols will ensure future accuracy, and that they include proper protocols and training procedures, among other points.

The Director of the Division of Water Quality Karl Rockeman testified that he had come to expand on comments already provided to the company in a July 6, 2017 letter.

“All pipelines should have adequate leak detection systems to allow for timely detection of leaks,” he said. “In some cases, inadequate leak detection has resulted in significant losses of both oil and saltwater and subsequent environmental damage. Conversely there have been other times when timely detection of leaks by the pipeline operator resulted in only small incidents.”

Rockeman said the Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t object to the pipeline conversion, which has already happened, as long as there is appropriate oversight and a thorough evaluation of the monitoring, leak detection and control room management of Belle Fourche lines.

Dockweiler, meanwhile, in prior testimony had said the ask is reasonable, and that just such an audit is already underway.

“There is a third party that does such audits, and there is one there now,” he said. “Their name is PHMSA.”

Dockweiler said that the federal agency was in the company’s office January of 2016 reviewing their control room management, and returned on Feb. 26.

Rockeman agreed that the audit by PHMSA could satisfy his concerns.

The water quality director also urged the PSC to pay special attention to a letter from the North Dakota Geological Survey about the pipeline’s proximity to areas prone to slumping.

That, too, is a “fair ask,” Dockweiler testified in prior testimony.

A key difference this time, he said, is that the pipeline doesn’t actually traverse such an area, like the Centennial line did. The areas prone to slumping are 200 or more feet away. They will be monitored to ensure that any shifting is not encroaching on the pipeline.

Also testifying during the public comments portion was Laura Grzanic, a resident of Billings County, who wanted reassurance that her county had been notified of the pipeline conversion. She also had questions about the age of the system.

“This is a 24-year old pipeline,” she said. “Is there any testing that should be done to make sure the age of this pipeline is compatible with the project. Can it take 20,000 barrels per day and the pressure from that? Those are my only two concerns.”

Fedorchak told Grzanic that the notifications had to be sent to all counties the pipeline traverses. It was also noted, later in the proceeding that a letter from Billings County Commissioners is part of the record, and says that they do not have a problem with the conversion.

As far as the age of the pipeline, Fedorchak pointed out that the line is being regulated and monitored by PHMSA, which is a federal agency. Its reports are being shared with all the relevant agencies monitoring the line.

“I don’t think there is a need for additional monitoring and testing to what is already in place,” she said. “In my view, it is being done.”

Chill, clouds don't dampen entrepreneurial spirit on Lemonade Day in Williston

On Saturday morning, participants in the fifth annual Lemonade Day in Williston were greeted with cloudy, chilly weather, but that was OK, they would make their own sun, and sell it by the glass.

At dozens of locations throughout the city, kids and their parents set up stands. Some were elaborately built and decorated. Others were simple tables laid out with pitchers and platters of treats.

Some, in deference to the rain that threatened to fall nearly all day, were under tents or canopies. When that didn’t work, the stands were often moved somewhere that offered a bit of cover.

On Main Street, in front of the entrance to Cugini’s Italian Bistro and Fresh Palate, Denli Wendt and Nora and Hannah Dixon had moved their stand under the overhang provided by the sign.

The group had created a unicorn-themed stand. They offered regular lemonade — plain unicorn — or strawberry — strawberry unicorn — as well as a mix of both. They served their drinks with ice dyed purple.

They had miniature pies, as well, both cherry and strawberry, all topped with whipped cream and colorful sprinkles. They called them, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Cutie Pies.”

The group was going to split their proceeds, with half to be donated to the Williston Police Department and half going to them.

One of the goals of Lemonade Day is to teach young people about what it takes to run a business, and another is to instill a sense of responsibility. The national organization recommends participants keep part of their profits and donate part to a charity that matters to them.

Part of running any business is differentiating yourself from your competitors. And when you’re running a lemonade stand, curb appeal is key.

Emma Swift set up her stand on Broadway. She was earning money so she and her siblings could bring their grandmother to visit them this summer.

Her stand was covered in splashes of paint.

“We wanted it to be colorful and different,” she said.

By Renaissance on Main, there were two stands set up. London and Brooklyn Wendt were running Buzzy Bee Lemonade, which offered regular and pink flavors, as well as popcorn and other treats. They were going to make a donation to Mondak Animal Rescue.

Just around the corner, tucked under the overhang of the building, was the stand run by Malcolm, Harlow and Soren Justice. Their stand had a red, white and blue theme, and they had a sign advertising coffee, in addition to lemonade.

“It’s not exactly an amazing day out,” Malcolm said, “but it’s Lemonade Day.”

In front of Sportsman’s Warehouse, Caydin and Cullin Hughes set up Golden Rule-ade. Their stand was different — everything was a free-will donation.

Their offering of chokecherry lemonade won the “Best Tasting” award, and they were raising money to help offset the cost of sending 11 students at the Taekwondo school they attend to a national tournament.

The boys would take breaks from serving lemonade to serve up demonstrations of what they’d learned from taking Taekwondo, breaking boards to impress onlookers.

Many of the stands had a personal touch like that. They weren’t just brightly colored, the themes matched the things the young people running them were passionate about.

Outside of Home of Economy, Braxtyn Emly and Kievyn Waggoner were running the Pokestop, a Pokemon-themed stand.

“It’s fun,” Braxtyn said. “It’s a nice way for us to learn social skills.”

Miss North Dakota Katie Olson preparing to share her crown with a new winner

Katie Olson said she doesn’t think anyone is really ready to give up the Miss North Dakota crown, but she thinks she is ready to share it with someone else.

On Saturday, June 15, Olson will place the crown onto the head of another young woman, the 33rd time that ceremony has taken place in Williston.

In her year as Miss North Dakota, Olson has done a lot. She put about 35,000 miles on her own car, which doesn’t count the other travel she’s done.

She got to meet about 18,000 students in more than 80 schools. She talked to them about her platform, “The Motivation Mindset: Positivity at Every Turn.”

“It’s just an honor to be welcomed into all these schools,” she said.

Olson’s platform is about finding opportunity in challenging situations and teaching young people to be grateful for what they have.

Olson’s travels have helped her learn more about her home state and have deepened her connection to it, as well.

She learned a few things about being Miss North Dakota, as well, and she’s ready to share some of those insights with the next Miss North Dakota, as well.

One of the main things she’s learned is that it pays to be thoughtful about what the crown — and the role — means, and to think carefully about what they want to do for that year.

“The crown molds to you,” she said.

There are 20 young woman in Williston right now hoping that their head will be the one the crown molds to. The contestants for the 2019 Miss North Dakota crown arrived Sunday, June 9, and practice started Monday.

The first preliminary round of competition is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bakken Elementary. The second preliminary round is on Thursday, followed by the Miss North Dakota’s Outstanding Teen competition on Friday.

The new Miss North Dakota will be crowned Saturday.

For information about tickets, as well as the events planned for the competition, visit missnorthdakota.org.

District 8 board member resigns after arrest for theft, board votes to hold forensic audit

A member of the Williams County Public School District No. 8 school board who has been accused of stealing from Missouri Ridge Township has resigned.

Deanna Senior, who was arrested May 31 and charged with one class B felony count of theft, submitted a letter of resignation to District 8 board president Jenny Jorgenson. The board voted 4-0 on Monday, June 10, to accept the resignation.

Board members offered no comments on the resignation, but did discuss how to fill the open seat. A regular school board election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 11.

Two seats are up for election: the ones currently held by Jorgenson and board member Amber Anderson. Jorgenson is not running, but Anderson is, as are Myles Fischer, Dawn Hollingsworth and Kyle Renner.

Jorgenson, who has served two three-year terms on the board, said the district hasn’t been consistent about how vacancies are filled.

“Our past practice has been all over the board,” she said.

Under state law, boards have 60 days to either appoint a new member or call a special election. If they don’t fill the position within 60 days, the county superintendent of schools is tasked with calling a special election.

Anderson suggested following a procedure similar to what Williston Public School District No. 1 did when Dr. Brent Vibeto resigned from the board. The District 1 board took applications and eventually appointed Robert Krom, who served about a year on the board but did not run for a full term.

“I think applications are important, because you get to know someone,” Anderson said.

Jorgenson said she thought applications were good, but there was a tight schedule that had to be followed.

“The thing is we only have 60 days until it’s out of our hands,” she said.

The board took no action, but plans to make a decision during a special meeting on Monday, June 17, when it will meet to canvass the results of Tuesday’s election.

At Monday’s meeting, the board also voted 4-0 to have Eide Bailly conduct a forensic audit, a reaction to Senior’s arrest on theft charges. Senior was authorized to sign checks for the district, but district officials said she didn’t have access to the accounts.

Business Manager Sherri Heser said she spoke to representatives from Eide Bailly who told her a forensic audit would cost between $5,000 and $7,500. Heser told the board that they could ask for one now, or, if they didn’t, their auditors would likely request one in the fall as part of the district’s annual audit.

Jorgenson said the district office has gotten multiple phone calls about Senior’s arrest and whether the district was affected.

“I think you’re better off now because our public is seeing what’s happening and they want to know nothing was taken from them,” she said.

Because the company the district uses for its annual audits would likely request one in the fall if there wasn’t one done now, it made sense to move forward, she said.

“I think you do it now and let the public know we’re doing our due diligence and not putting it on the back burner until October,” Jorgenson told the other board members.

Fundraiser started for McKenzie County deputy injured in June 7 crash

Residents of Watford City have created an online fundraiser for McKenzie County Deputy Natasha Skala, who was injured in a crash on Highway 1806 on Friday, June 7.

The fundraiser has a goal of bringing in $20,000 to help defray the cost of medical and personal expenses during Skala’s recovery.

Skala was on patrol Friday morning and around 9:40 a.m., she was stopped in her 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe, waiting to turn left across 1806. While she was stopped, a 1998 Kenworth semi driven by 57-year-old Michael Gritzan struck the rear of her police SUV.

The crash sent Skala’s Tahoe spinning, and after it came to rest, it caught fire. Skala had to be rescued from the burning vehicle and was flown to a hospital in Bismarck.

According to the organizers of the fundraiser, Skala sustained multiple injuries, including multiple broken bones and bruised lung. While some injuries will require surgery, others can’t be operated on, and will take a long time to heal on their own.

More information about the fundraiser is online at www.gofundme.com/1nv0mlkes0.