Township has crude oil concerns

All seats were filled Thursday night in the Ex-Serviceman’s Room of the Ward County Courthouse in Minot. It was the Novemeber monthly meeting of the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the issue can be summarized as elements of the western oil patch heading east into Ward County.

Energy Infrastructure Partners wants to build a crude oil loading facility in an approximately 450 acre property in Baden Township.

The facility would be much larger than similar facilities already found in the state, and that’s one of the four points that the project manager from the company, Greg Barlow, made for selecting the location when he was given the floor at the beginning of the public hearing.

He said the location was chosen due to the flat topography of the area, its proximity to both a county road and a rail line, the large size of the tract of land and its closeness to the oil.

Then the floor was given to the engineer of record for the project, Kenny Hancock, a senior vice president at Wilson & Company, an engineering and architectural company based in Albuquerque, N.M.

With calmness and clarity, he ran through all the facts of the project he figured community members may most want to know. Those issues included the fact that the facility’s loop-tracks are not only long enough to hold the entirety of a locomotive and all its tanker cars being filled, but also long enough for two, which would keep the main rail lines free of obstruction during operation. Also, those tankers will remain on the locomotive at all times, reducing the noise of constant disconnect and reconnect.

Lighting will be housed within the facility itself as to not penetrate the darkness of the area too badly, though the centralized location on the tract of land would make it so far inside that the light penetration wouldn’t be very powerful, anyway. Likewise, the necessary flare wouldn’t be of the “candle” variety, but instead an “enclosed ground flare.”

Environmental concerns, including grey-water tanks and retention ponds, were also addressed.

But, despite the fact that the facility would at least be staffed 24 hours a day even if its production schedule might not necessarily be so, Hancock assured meeting attendees that there will be no mancamp constructed on site.

Despite the assurances of the two men, some members of the audience took their chance to speak.

“Let’s be basic here,” said Walt Christensen, a member of the Baden Township Board. “Let’s talk about costs and benefits. We don’t see any benefits in this, only costs.”

The primary concern seemed to be the dangers as well as the wear and tear to community and township roadways with the increased truck traffic, despite assurances that the large facility will allow for trucks to stay off the roadways as often as possible.

While Barlow and Hancock said that current plans allow for only extremely limited use of township roadways, others want to be sure of it. One man even recalled the anhydrous ammonia spill in Minot from several years ago and said that increased truck traffic would up the probability of a serious crash creating another spill.

Others were concerned simply of crossing the roads during heavy traffic, and even whether children going to school would be safe. Commission Chairman Kevin Connole was also concerned that proper lighting be maintained so that motorists can see a train well ahead of time.

One woman, whose voice cracked with emotion as she spoke at the lectern, had concerns about the meaning of the site as opposed to its fertile history as farmland.

“It’s producing very well,” Tahnee King, who would be living across the road from the proposed site, said. “It’s producing food, it’s feeding people. … I don’t see how it’s progress to take away producing land and giving it to a non-renewable resource.”

An Airman and an employee of the Minot Air Force Base, which is located in the township, though, expressed what seemed to be the largest issue of all, the traffic impact, by emphatically recommending a traffic study.

The commissioners agreed and tabled both the special use permit application public hearing as well as the plat approval for the property to be heard again at a future meeting to give more time for a traffic study, a waste-management water plan and review.