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Legislative Interim Report – Senator Murphy, April, 2014

There are a lot of areas of study before our Energy Development and Transmission Committee.  Last week I drove to Minot for an all Tuesday-long meeting that started out with landowners who have lost productive acreage to saltwater spills.  These were mostly wells that had operated in the 1960-1980 time frame when rules and enforcement for disposal of saltwater were not as developed.  State Geologist Ed Murphy said that he has seen salt water come up with oil at ratios from 30 barrels of brine for each barrel of oil to much less, and that now with modern extraction it averages about 2 barrels of brine to 1 of oil.  Our crude is of high quality, but our saltwater is the saltiest to be found anywhere by quite a bit -so much so that concentrations often run to 250,000 to 460,000 parts per million – nearly half salt.  Once salt gets loose on ag land in those concentrations, it tends to spread and leach deep and wide, rendering the land useless for agriculture or grazing.  Drain tiling is a possible answer for reclamation, but it has to be much deeper than we here in the RRV have to tile our fields because the salt has often gotten too deep.  Combined with lower land values and less rain to move the salt to allow it to be moved away by tile and then eventually put down a disposal well, the cost/benefit analysis is currently too steep.  But it is being studied and I was happy to hear that our own Traill County business, Agassiz Drain Tile, was referred to by the geologist as a cutting-edge practitioner of that trade.  

Speaking of Traill County, we had a couple of other people from here that testified in front of our committee on the State Fairgrounds we should be proud of: Jay Almlie, who graduated from MayPort CG, is Senior Research Manager for our world-class institution at UND, the EERC (Energy and Environmental Research Center).  Jay explained how they are pairing up with NDSU to address spill remediation, land reclamation and waste minimization related to oil field activities.  And who should be his partner testifying from NDSU but our own Dr. Kevin Sedivec who lives with his family off of HWY. 200 halfway between Mayville and Hillsboro?  Kevin is the reigning state expert when it comes to prairie grasses and works a lot with ranchers concerning forage mixes, etc.  He will be utilizing a couple of scientists and our top notch greenhouse at NDSU when he brings back soil samples – he was heading to Tioga where that horrendous oil spill took place fall.

We heard about problems associated with filter socks that collect NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material).  They cost about a buck and a half to buy and about $60 to dispose of.  So, some bad operators skip obeying the law and we are working on a couple of angles to make enforcement more efficient.  There was a lot more from Ron Ness, President of the ND Petroleum Council and Niles Hushka, CEO of KLJ, the firm we hired to give us a forecast on conditions surrounding the oil play.  He mentioned something to the effect that, while congested, he believed that railroads would be able to capably serve both oil and agricultural industries.  Having visited with several constituents and friends who run elevators or farms that are nearly beside themselves with the lack of rail cars, I interrupted Mr. Huschka to tell him that, frankly, I was having trouble believing him on that issue.  He then explained how it may take a few years, years that I know we in the East will not easily surrender to delay.

Sen. Phil Murphy, ND District 20.

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