Pipelines now outpacing trucks for gathering Bakken oil

More oil is now gathered by pipeline than truck in western North Dakota, taking pressure off Oil Patch communities faced with congestion, traffic fatalities and dust.

New figures from the North Dakota Pipeline Authority show that for the first time in several years, more oil is leaving well sites by pipeline, and that trend is expected to continue, Director Justin Kringstad said.

“We’ve seen some significant progress in the major counties in western North Dakota getting crude off the roadways and into gathering pipeline systems,” Kringstad said.

An estimated 441,644 barrels of oil left well sites by truck each day in April, while 725,743 barrels per day were transported by gathering pipelines to either a transmission pipeline or a rail-loading terminal, Kringstad said, using the most recent figures available.

All counties saw a reduction in oil truck traffic in 2015, with the exception of McKenzie County, which still had an average of 892 oil truckloads each day in April.

“We’ll likely see that turn the corner here in the next year or so,” Kringstad said.

McKenzie County, the state’s busiest oil county, saw significant growth with pipelines between 2012 and this year, but not enough to keep up with the growth in oil production.

“We’re still behind the eight ball on pipelines,” County Commissioner Ron Anderson said.

McKenzie County, which leads the state in traffic fatalities, has budgeted nearly $25 million this year to maintain gravel roads and bridges heavily traveled by oil traffic.

Kringstad said he expects pipeline growth to continue, further reducing the amount trucked, improving the safety of the roads and reducing complaints from residents about dust. Pipelines also ease operations for oil companies by eliminating the need for trucks during a blizzard or spring load restrictions, he added.

“There’s a lot of advantages that we see in getting these fluids off the roadways and into a pipeline,” Kringstad said.

Williams County, which had an average of 362 oil truckloads per day in April, also saw a significant shift from trucks to gathering pipelines from 2012 to 2015.

Williams County Highway Superintendent Dennis Nelson said while he’s noticed some reduction in truck traffic in the county that includes Williston, it hasn’t slowed down the need for road maintenance.

“The roads have gotten abused in the last few years, terribly, and we only have so many dollars to fix with, so we do what we can and go from there,” Nelson said.