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North Dakota will study saltwater disposal fires caused by lightning

When a saltwater tank gets hit by lighting, chaos quickly follows. Not only is there a fire that is likely to destroy the entire tank battery, spilling oil and produced water, but the lids themselves fly like frisbees.

Just ask Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County’s Emergency Management Director. Her county has had four lightning strikes on saltwater disposal units this year alone. And she says that number is not unusual.

“I lose four to five salt water disposals a year,” Jappe told the Williston Herald. “If you look at all the well pads, the central tank batteries, the compressor gas plants — we have more static electricity than the rest of the state.”

Among the fires this year was one that consumed a facility that was just five months old.

“It was a beautiful facility,” Jappe said. “But it had 13 fiberglass tanks.”

Static electricity is what Jappe and many others in the oil and gas industry believe is attracting lightning strikes to fiberglass tanks. That is why the emergency management director has been pushing for changes to how the risks are managed, including what types of tanks are used.

As a result, the state’s Oil and Gas Research Council has recently voted to recommend commissioning a $300,000 study of lightning strikes and saltwater disposal fires by the Energy and Environmental Research Council.

Funding would come from a special pool that has been set aside for emerging issues.

“Normally the Research Council requires a 50 percent private or federal match,” North Dakota Department of Minerals Director Lynn Helms said. “But money from that pool does not.”

The proposal would require approval by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which will consider the matter Aug. 28.

Helms brought up the matter of saltwater disposal fires with the Oil and Gas Research Council last week.

The state’s top oil and gas regulator said he is seeing a significant increase in the number of disposal well permits, which he expects to double or triple in the next decade or two.

“Anecdotally the reports are that fiberglass tanks, when fluid flows through them — especially salty water — build up a significant static electric charge,” Helms said. “It’s something I’m told that you can physically feel if you are near the tank.”

If that’s the case, it’s a serious issue, and not only because it can attract lightning,” Helms said.

“It’s also creating hazards for connecting trucks and things like that,” he said. “You could get a spark.”

While some ideas for solutions have already been proposed, such as requiring the use of steel tanks, Helms wants to see a more comprehensive look at the problem before settling on recommendations for best practices.

“Rather than leap, we think we should get some science behind it first,” Helms said.

Jappe, meanwhile, said she just wants companies to realize that lightning is a real hazard, and plans to work individually with companies to make sure they are fully aware of the risks.

“The weather can get wild out here,” she said. “Every well pad has salt water tanks on it. I don’t want these companies coming in and investing without knowing that if they put up 13 fiberglass tanks that they are probably going to get hit by lightning.”

Photo by Amy Efta  

Crowd was Tough Enough to Wear Pink Friday night at the rodeo

Friday night was Tough Enough to Wear Pink night at the Richland County Fair and Rodeo, where fans and spectators enjoyed saddle bronc riding in their many shades of pink attire.

Where born and bred Montanans do, and don’t, live

For many Montanans, few questions strike at the heart of personal identity quite like the making-your-acquaintance classic, “Where are you from, originally?”

Being able to answer “from here” is perhaps the ultimate signifier of Montana street cred, especially in parts of the state where the rise of the scenery economy has stocked the population with outsiders and, oftentimes, out-of-state wealth. Being a born-and-raised local is considered an authentic marker of belonging in the Last Best Place — a marker that, unlike a pickup or cowboy boots, isn’t available for purchase.

But just how many Montanans are actually “from here”? A Montana Free Press analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the answer is less than half, or 47 percent of residents 25 and older.

(That figure, which excludes younger Montanans to accommodate the demographic influence of children and traditional-age college students, represents a five-year average of American Community Survey data collected between 2013 and 2017.)

In Gallatin County, which includes Bozeman, where Montana State University, tech companies, and tourism have fed a decades-long boom adding more than 32,000 jobs to the local economy since 2001, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, only a third of adults report being Montana-born.

Similarly, Missoula County, Flathead County (Kalispell), and Yellowstone County (Billings) are all majority-transplant, according to the census data. Lewis and Clark County (Helena) and Cascade County (Great Falls) are just on the native-born side of 50-50. Among the state’s seven largest cities, only Butte can claim that a solid majority of its populace, 63 percent, was born in Montana.

South of Missoula, Ravalli County has the distinction of the highest percentage of transplants in the state, with only 29 percent of residents saying they were born in Montana. Most other counties along Montana’s western border are also majority-transplant.

While American Community Survey data is sometimes unreliable for sparsely populated counties where its questionnaire reaches relatively fewer people, its data paints a different picture for much of the north-central and eastern Montana plains, and in particular for counties that overlap with Native American reservations.

Glacier County, which includes Cut Bank and most of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, is 65 percent Native American, and more than three-quarters of its population reports being born in Montana. Big Horn County, encompassing Hardin and a majority of the Crow Indian Reservation, is 66 percent Native American and 73 percent Montana-born.

The intangible value of birthplace-based identity aside, economists tend to have a rosier view of in-migration than old-timers grousing about incoming Californians. Economists tend to regard people moving between cities and states as good for the economic prospects of individuals and the economy as a whole, on the basis that mobility allows job seekers to pursue opportunity by following job creation. In Montana so far this century, that has generally meant moving to cities, which are attracting new arrivals from inside and outside the state’s borders.

In the Bozeman area, for example, census data indicates that roughly 4,100 adults 25 and older are new arrivals to Gallatin County within the last year, and two-thirds of them are from out of state. Statewide, the Census Bureau estimates that Montana sees about 22,800 new residents from out of state annually, approximately 2,000 of those coming from outside the U.S.

Some economists argue that jobs in so-called scenery economies like the booming parts of western Montana tend to follow people, rather than the other way around. Let recreation opportunities and pretty landscapes draw new arrivals into a place, the thinking goes, then they’ll bolster the economy by buying property and starting businesses.

Montana’s fastest-growing economies, Bozeman among them, also have relatively high proportions of residents born out of state. In contrast, reservation counties and other communities with high rates of Montana-born residents have tended generally toward stagnant or negative job growth so far this century.

A few western Montana counties — Mineral, Lincoln, Sanders, and Ravalli — buck the overall trend, apparently because they’ve become retirement destinations where new Montanans can move with less concern for the state of the local economy.

While 58% of adult new arrivals to Montana statewide are in the 25 to 44 age bracket, the figure is about half that, 30%, in Ravalli County. At the other end of the age spectrum, 13% of new adult Montanans are 65 or older, while in Mineral County, retirement-age adults account for more than half of new arrivals.

Four things to know about Sidney's city audit

1 The City of Sidney had an audit performed by Denning, Downey & Associates, P.C. for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The audit was found to be clean, which is the third year in a row the city has received a clean rating.

2 One finding in the audit revealed the city has an excess of cash in the general fund and they are not allowed to have more than half the amount budgeted in the fund. The excess money, City Clerk/Treasurer Jessica Redfield said, will be moved to Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) accounts, where it will remain until needed.

3The second finding in the audit report reflected the city’s early payoff of the Subdivision Improvement Districts (SID) loan. Money saved from the early payoff will be due back to owners in two of the four disctricts.

4The city passed all compliance checks, which limits the risk of theft. Redfield said the city’s biggest issue was saving too much money, which was a good place for Sidney to be. The city has implemented annual audits since 2014, although by law they are only required to do audits every other fiscal year.