Energy Transfer Partners has announced that Dakota Access will join North Dakota’s Intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program, iPipe, a consortium of oilfield companies seeking to prevent leaks and advance leak detection technology.

“Dakota Access Pipeline is excited to help steer the efforts of this program, and expects that the outcomes of this unique program will result in an even greater record of safe operations across the entire pipeline industry,” said Vicki Granado, vice president of Corporate Communications for Energy Transfer, the operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Granado told the Williston Herald the company believes industry collaboration is very important on a number of fronts, but particularly when it comes to pipeline safety.

“As a company, we are involved in a number of organizations that are focused around the constant improvement of pipeline safety and operations,” she said. “Joining iPIPE is an extension of that. It allows us to work cooperatively with a number of our peers to continue to put safety first and foremost in our industry’s operations.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said it’s great to see a company that is a subsidiary to a company the size of ETP join the effort to advance leak detection.

“IPIPE is a model of how to blend entrepreneurship and applied research together via a private and public partnership,” he said. “Energy Transfer Partners bring incredible knowledge and experiences to the table which will just enhance the potential for improved pipeline technology and leak detection.”

Energy Transfer’s announcement comes as the North Dakota Public Service Commission is deciding whether it will approve a proposal to nearly double the volume of oil the Dakota Access pipeline carries to Illinois, from 570,000 barrels per day to 1.1 million.

Energy Transfer has said the additional oil in the pipeline would not increase the risk of a spill, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other environmental groups have questioned that.

Tribal members, in particular, have asked to see a detailed spill risk analysis, as well as a worst-case scenario for the line’s Missouri River crossing, which is just north of where the Standing rock reservation lies.

The North Dakota PSC has scheduled a Jan. 23 work session — likely just the first — as a followup to a lengthy public hearing it held in November to collect public comments and concerns about the expansion.

The iPipe Consortium, meanwhile, was formed in 2017, after Gov. Doug Burgum challenged the oil and gas industry to find a way to get to zero leaks.

“We like to not have ranchers and farmers be the early detection and warning system in our state,” Burgum said at the time.

He also pointed out at the time that a relatively small leak involving Dakota Access made headlines, while a much larger accident that spilled more oil in the same time frame wasn’t covered. Given an environment that focuses on big pipelines, he challenged North Dakota's midstream companies to achieve a perfect record.

The iPipe Consortium uses a Shark Tank Style competition to pick technologies that could advance current leak detection technology, but is not ready for market.

The iPipe companies then work with the technology over the next year, to help bring it across the finished line.

The program started with four founding members, Oasis, Hess, Equinor (formerly Statoil), and Goodnight Midstream. They were quickly joined by ONEOK and Andeavor (Tesoro).

The group now has 11 members, including the latest addition, Energy Transfer Partners's Dakota Access Pipeline.

The program’s director, Jay Almlie, with the Energy and Environmental Research Center, has told the Williston Herald he gets more calls and more interest from companies interested in joining the Consortium as word gets out about the important work that’s being done.

Energy Transfer’s announcement on Monday, Jan. 13, just shows the continued strength of the commitment he sees from industry, to operate pipelines as safely as possible.

“The addition of a major player such as Energy Transfer signals industry’s continued interest in looking over the horizon for every tool possible to operate pipelines with zero spills,” he said. “We welcome all small and large pipeline operators in steering the efforts of this program.”

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