Bakken Pipeline furrows through WY ranches

Oct 19, 2012

Eastern Wyoming ranchers say they were blindsided in late 2010 when it was announced that a $500 million, 525-mile natural gas liquids pipeline would slice through their private land, mostly avoiding public lands. Construction of the pipeline now is under way in the Cowboy State, with completion expected in 2013.

In addition, the ranchers have recently learned that a major crude oil pipeline also could be installed in a parallel route along that same corridor through their properties.

Crook County land owners wonder in anxiety what additional impact that new pipeline would have on their lives, property and operations as they continue to adjust to the Bakken Pipeline now getting buried deeply in trenches through their pastures, fields and pristine backyards.

The Tulsa, OK-based ONEOK Inc.’s natural gas liquids pipeline—potentially carrying 60,000 barrels of propane, butane and ethane daily—will run from North Dakota and Sydney, MT, to the Overland Pass Pipeline in Colorado via eastern Wyoming.

It will operate at a pressure of 1,440 pounds per inch.

About 120 Wyoming land owners—representing about 160 miles of the 305 miles crossed by the pipeline in the state—formed Progressive Pathways LLC to negotiate with ONEOK, a large diversified energy company, in late 2011 and early this year to protect their interests. Their main concerns were reclamation, compensation, safety and the pipeline’s future.

About 97 percent of them have signed an easement agreement, assuring them less liability if the pipeline fails and enabling them to make re-seeding recommendations. ONEOK sought a permanent 50-foot easement with an additional temporary 25 feet needed for construction. The company now is pursuing eminent domain actions to condemn the property of the few holdouts opposed to the project.

Maxine Ripley said she and her husband Claire first learned of ONEOK’s Bakken Pipeline project in December 2010 when they received survey and easement agreements in the mail from the company.

“No one knew about this until that time. Then, we knew we had a problem and all land owners would need to deal with them cooperatively or individually,” Ripley told Western Livestock Journal.

When they met with ONEOK representatives, “We were told at the time that not cooperating would put the pipeline company in a position to use eminent domain to bring about the greatest good,” she said. “Here we are private property owners facing a situation we never before encountered—how to deal with a large pipeline.”

ONEOK wanted to run the natural gas liquids pipeline through private property rather than public lands to avoid Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulations, Ripley said.

Most property owners signed onto the company’s survey and easement agreements under duress because they figured a company of ONEOK’s magnitude otherwise would condemn their property, Ripley said, adding that creating Progressive Pathways enabled them to be armed with some legal and monetary protection. She has heard of three holdouts in Crook County, who have declined to cooperate with ONEOK, going to court to fight and delay the project.

The Ripley ranch was homesteaded in 1883 when her husband’s grandfather moved from New York to establish a small working ranch.

“Not one of us believed a pipeline would be laid in these Black Hills. We recognize we need to be free and independent of foreign oil. We just believe there could have been another route. We, and our future generations, will have to live with this pipeline for scores of years,” Ripley said.

The impacted property owners fear the pipeline will devalue their land values should they decide to sell. ONEOK agreed to move the pipeline off the middle of the Ripleys’ irrigated field to the west, taking only a corner of a field, she mentioned.

“As far as pasture land, once the line is buried, it’s not a real problem unless it blows,” she said.

Last spring, ONEOK announced it also plans to lay a crude oil pipeline along the same route as the natural gas pipeline, which will require more land and another round of negotiations. It reportedly is seeking bids for that project from contractors.

“We’re praying the oil pipeline won’t go through. … It affects us having a large company determining it wants our land and can take it,” Ripley said, adding she felt ONEOK’s compensation was fair for a one-time payment. “If you prorate it for 40 years, maybe it’s not quite so fair.”

Ripley said the biggest problem with the natural gas liquids pipeline is the disruption in people’s lives. One recent weekend, she and her husband watched a crew lay pipe on Red Water Creek, crossing two forks after several attempts. “We don’t know yet if there will be a disturbance to the creek.” Now the workers are trying to put the line under a large irrigation pipe in a field.

“I don’t think anybody is really excited. We really had little choice. When talking to a group of mostly independent ranchers, you will find people understand they don’t want it.

Anytime you are working with a big entity like that, you are going to find that entity is doing it for their good and their good only,” Ripley said.

ONEOK’s natural gas liquids pipeline runs through the middle of Mick Quaal’s large hay field near Highway 24. Of his 2,400 acres, hay is grown on about 1,400 acres. Quaal also has a small herd of Longhorn cattle on his property, which he has owned for 18 years and lived on for 10 years.

“They went across two miles of our place,” Quaal told WLJ. “As far as that goes, it’s not going to bother our hay. They will reclaim it until it is at least 70 percent reseeded. That part doesn’t bother us.”

What does bother Quaal is the impact the pipeline could have on his property values and the fact ranchers in the area did not request it. “There’s a bit of a frontier mindset around here, you know. They don’t like any type of change. … No one’s happy about it. It seems a little odd they just decide to put in the pipeline, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Since ONEOK announced its plans for a crude oil pipeline through the area, “they’ve been pretty mum on the deal,” Quaal said.

Retired, Chester Hejde and his wife Evelyn have lived on their property for 57 years, seeing dirt roads turn into gravel roads into paved highways, making it easier to get around in their remote area.

The Hejdes are leasing out their 2,700 acres for grazing and farming. For the past month, the natural gas liquids pipeline has been installed on their land. “Right now it’s a mess,” Hejde said, noting the pipe is in the ground, but top soil still needs to be put atop it and the dirt reseeded.

Referring to his neighbors, Hejde said, “Some of them didn’t especially care for it, but the biggest percent of us allowed it.” He said he felt like ONEOK compensated him fairly for use of his land. He said he expects the company’s crude oil pipeline will be installed in Wyoming in another 2½ to three years. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent