Quick thinking by employees on the scene of a fire at ONEOK’s Stateline facility on July 9 helped contain the blaze and ensure that it didn’t become a much bigger problem.
The information was part of a presentation during TrainND’s Disaster Symposium, which dug into a variety of topics related to emergency preparedness in a region that has 1,600 Tier II facilities. Max Milne, environmental, safety, and health coordinator with ONEOK, talked about the fire in terms of what went well, and what things the company is considering doing differently after the fire.
“What went well is the operators on staff — these guys have 3 to 5 years of experience — realized that this fire was going to be beyond their capabilities,” he said. “So they went ahead and didn’t just do a local ESD, they did it plant wide.”
An ESD refers to an emergency shutdown.
After the plantwide shutdown, employees went to a preselected, planned muster point, taking the sign-in, sign-out log with them as outlined in their emergency plan to ensure everyone made it out. They also brought a copy of the plant’s emergency action plan to guide their next steps.
Employees in Oklahoma, meanwhile, assisted in remotely controlling the plant. Those employees have the ability, simply by logging into a computer system, to slow down or speed up feeds to particular towers, Milne explained. Or they can, as they did in this case, close valves.
Another aspect that Milne said worked really well was the response by local law enforcement and firefighters.
Law enforcement helped establish a 1-mile perimeter around the scene, blocking roads so that no motorists inadvertently entered the area. Williston Rural Fire Department, meanwhile, was on standby with equipment necessary to fight such fires for about four hours while the gas fire was allowed to burn down. They didn’t have to use the equipment, however, because ONEOK’s containment procedures worked as intended.
“I cannot say enough good things about the local law enforcement and firefighters,” Milne said. “They showed up in a 15 to 20-minute window, ready to help out when and where needed. Law enforcement helped us control roads and direct traffic, and helped us make judgement calls that were solid.”
Whenever ONEOK has an incident involving an emergency response, a team goes back through all the details to explore anything that could be done to further strengthen future responses to emergencies.
As a result of that, the company is now considering establishing either a mobile or fixed structure that will make remote access available to the employees at the muster area.
There was a valve inside the area of the fire that ties into the compressor, Milne added. Shutting that off would have immediately stopped the fire. They could not close the valve, however, because of its proximity to the fire.
The company is now examining whether they can either reposition that valve, or add a remote isolation valve so it could be closed off from a distance. The company is also considering the purchase of an emergency response trailer that would be equipped with remote capabilities and radio, as well as water, first-aid kits and the like.
Milne added that the company always stresses to employees to put themselves and coworkers first.
“As far as the asset itself, that is always secondary,” he said.
There were no injuries during the July 9 fire at Stateline, and the fire did not force evacuation of any private residence. The plant was also able to return to operation a mere two days later. Company officials at the time credited quick actions employees on the scene took to immediately contain the fire.
The Stateline gas plant was completed in April 2013 as part of a $4.7 billion capital growth program to increase NGL takeaway in the Bakken and help reduce flaring in the region.
More recently, the company sought permission to convert Stateline gas gathering lines to an NGL transmission line called Cherry Creek. The converted pipeline is to run from the newly constructed Lonesome Creek plant to Stateline, which is located just north of Highway 2 in Williams County, near the Montana border.
The proposed project is part of continued efforts to meet the state’s flaring limits, as well as increase NGL takeaway, by solving a bottleneck issue in that area. The PSC approved the project in May, and it was expected to begin operation in May of 2019.
ONEOK Partners is the largest independent operator of natural gas gathering and processing facilities in the Williston Basin, with a natural gas gathering system of more than 6,900 miles and acreage dedications totaling about 3 million acres. They have about 400 employees statewide.
They process nearly a billion cubic feet of gas daily at nine processing plants in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, and have recently announced construction of two new plant Demick’s Lake plants in McKenzie County, both capable of adding 200 million more cubic feet of gas processing capacity, as well as construction of a 900-mile, 20-inch diameter pipeline called Elk Creek to take up to 240,000 barrels per day of NGLS away from its Riverview terminal in eastern Montana to a facility in Bushton, Kansas.
These upgrades were all part of $3 billion in projected capital growth projects the company had announced earlier this year.