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N.D.'s top oil regulator says Keystone XL would reduce traffic deaths

BISMARCK - The Keystone XL Pipeline could mean three to six fewer traffic deaths per year in North Dakota as a result of reduced truck traffic, the state's top oil and gas regulator says.

Lynn Helms
Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, testifies Tuesday, May 7, 2013, to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. (Photo courtesy of Matt Becker)

BISMARCK - The Keystone XL Pipeline could mean three to six fewer traffic deaths per year in North Dakota as a result of reduced truck traffic, the state's top oil and gas regulator says.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said Wednesday that he spent two days last week testifying in Washington, D.C., and meeting with federal legislators about the Keystone XL Pipeline and other issues.

Although the Keystone XL Pipeline would not go through North Dakota, it would transport 60,000 barrels per day of North Dakota Bakken crude with space for up to 100,000 barrels per day, Helms said.

If the pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma existed today, North Dakota would have 300 to 500 fewer semi trips every day because oil would be transported by pipeline instead of by truck, Helms said.

The Department of Transportation estimates that three to six traffic fatalities each year are associated with that amount of trucking, as well as 80 to 150 traffic injuries, he said.


The Obama administration has twice blocked the Keystone XL, which needs federal approval because it crosses the Canadian border. Supporters urge Obama to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline, but opponents raise environmental concerns.

Helms testified about the Keystone XL Pipeline's impacts to North Dakota last week to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

"There are some real hard numbers that we were able to provide on Keystone XL to show the impacts to North Dakota," Helms said.

Helms' comments came during his monthly update with reporters on oil production.

North Dakota oil production rose 0.5 percent in March to 782,812 barrels per day despite winter storms that at times shut down roads in the Oil Patch, according to preliminary figures the Department of Mineral Resources released Wednesday.

"Considering what the weather was like in March, I'm actually really pleased that oil production rose instead of declining," Helms said.

The March production figure marks another all-time high for North Dakota oil production, which was 779,050 barrels per day in February.

More than 70 percent of the oil is transported out of the Bakken by rail, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.


Helms also testified in Washington about the impact of the Bureau of Land Management's proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing.

The Fort Berthold Reservation would feel the most impact from additional requirements on hydraulic fracturing, Helms said. Currently it takes about 180 to 290 days to get a drilling permit on the reservation, compared to 20 to 30 days for state and private lands in North Dakota, Helms said. With the new rule, Helms estimates the time to get a drilling permit on federal lands could double.

Oil and gas operators are picking up the pace in North Dakota, with the rig count reaching 193 in the state Wednesday morning.

Helms said he expects that number to continue climbing, but not to exceed 200 this summer. The all-time high was 218 rigs in May 2012, but operators are switching to higher efficiency rigs capable of drilling wells in an average of 22 days.

Spring road restrictions continue to slow oil activity in some areas, particularly Williams and Divide counties, Helms said. Those are the areas that will likely see additional rigs as restrictions are lifted, he said.

The percent of natural gas that is flared was 29 percent in March, down slightly from 30.4 percent in February. Helms said he expects to see significant progress to reduce flaring in the next few months.

Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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