North Dakota mulling study of lightning strikes in oil patch

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota is considering whether to study lightning strikes at saltwater disposal sites after lightning hit state facilities at least four times since June, triggering fires and spills of oil and brine.
People familiar with the facilities said tanks made of fiberglass can be particularly vulnerable to fires when lightning strikes, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
Last week, North Dakota’s Oil and Gas Research Council decided to seek requests for a proposal in an effort to commission a study. The council, which consists of state officials and representatives from the energy industry, pinpoints oil- and gas-related research projects to pursue. The projects are funded by up to $10 million in oil taxes each biennium.
The state’s Industrial Commission, chaired by Gov. Doug Burgum, will need to grant approval before the council can proceed.
Karlene Fine, executive of the Industrial Commission, said the authorization could happen at a meeting Aug. 28.
Ron Day, a member of the research council who works for Marathon Petroleum, said lightning-related fires at disposal sites present a safety concern in the oil fields and added he supports additional studies.
“It’s really just to try to understand, is there a connection to fiberglass tanks, is there a way to lightning-proof or reduce the threat of lightning to those facilities?” he said.
The Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota is drafting up a plan for an initial study to present to the Industrial Commission, which includes a cost estimate for the state and time frame.
John Harju, the research center’s vice president for strategic partnerships, noted a more comprehensive study could come down the road.
“Maybe there are definitive works out there and guidelines that could be augmented or drawn upon,” Harju said. “I think that would guide any subsequent, directed research.”
Lightning-related incidents at saltwater disposal sites can be difficult on rural fire departments that have to monitor and extinguish the ensuing fires, according to first responders in the Bakken.
North Dakota does not require disposal sites to install lightning protection equipment, though some facilities willingly do so.