BISMARCK, N.D. — The proposed Bridger Expansion project will entail building two separate oil pipelines: one that straddles North Dakota and Montana, and another in Wyoming.
Developer Bridger Pipeline LLC revealed more details about the project this week, launching a website at www.bridgerexpansion.com with information for landowners and others.
The 16-inch North Dakota-Montana line will be called “South Bend” and will carry up to 150,000 barrels of oil per day from Johnson's Corner in McKenzie County to Baker, Montana. It will extend for 137 miles across the two states.
The Wyoming line will be known as “Equality” and will transport up to 200,000 barrels of oil per day from Hulett, Wyo., to Guernsey, Wyo. From there, oil will be taken to market on other pipelines, including the proposed Liberty line, which is a separate project by Bridger and Philips 66 that’s slated to run to Cushing, Okla.
Cushing is a major oil hub. It offers storage space for crude and serves as a starting or ending point for many pipelines. Some of those lines carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries or ports, where American oil is then shipped overseas.
“It’s all about access to national and international markets,” Bridger spokesman Bill Salvin said.
Bridger operates several gathering and transmission pipeline systems in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The company already has lines that run between Montana and Wyoming to connect the two new lines it’s proposing as part of its expansion.
“Those are adequate for us to carry existing barrels and the new barrels we’re going to carry,” Salvin said.
Bridger has not disclosed the cost of the expansion project.
Salvin said the new lines will help increase the value of oil produced in North Dakota, as they will add more pipeline capacity to carry the state’s oil to market. Some Bakken oil still travels on train, which tends to be a more expensive method of transportation.
The company estimates that about 260 people will work on construction of the South Bend line, along with 30 others involved in start-up activities like inspection and survey work. The Equality line will result in another 350 construction jobs and 40 more positions involved in start-up work. Bridger anticipates the expansion will result in 20 permanent jobs.
About 80% of the South Bend line will be built along existing rights-of-way, and the company already has lines operating in some of those areas, Salvin said.
Bridger expects to start construction on the line next year and begin operating it by mid-2021. Work on the Equality line is poised to begin by the end of this year and wrap up by the third quarter of 2020.
The project still needs to secure approvals from federal, state and local regulators. The North Dakota Public Service Commission has not yet received an application from the company, according to a spokeswoman.
Last month, the PSC granted permits for a different pipeline in McKenzie County operated by another subsidiary of True Companies, which is the parent company of Bridger. The line, run by the Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., had undergone changes in pressure and storage that prompted it to become classified as a transmission pipeline rather than a smaller gathering line. The conversion happened before the company received approval from the PSC, which has jurisdiction over transmission lines.
Another Belle Fourche line in Stark, Dunn and Billings counties is in the same boat. The PSC is still weighing the request for permits on that line.
At a hearing earlier this year, a state environmental official asked for a third-party inspection of Belle Fourche’s leak detection systems, given the company’s history of spills in North Dakota. The pipeline operator has had 17 spills in the state since 2009, including one in Billings County that leaked 12,615 barrels or 530,000 gallons of oil in 2016. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is already conducting such a review.
Meanwhile, True Companies is revamping its pipeline monitoring procedures.
Salvin said the South Bend line will be monitored by a new system that uses artificial intelligence to better detect leaks. He said Bridger also uses standard techniques such as flying over the line weekly to check for issues, as well as sending equipment down the pipeline to detect any damage.