Bakken Oil Must Follow New Pressure Standard

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Oil trains from the Bakken pass through downtown Bismarck every day.

The oil in those cars now must be conditioned; a move state regulators say make the state's oil safer to ship.

"We now know what is coming out of these well sites and the consistency of the product," said Alison Ritter of the Department of Mineral Resources.

Companies will need to remove the volatile gases in the oil so the vapor pressure doesn't go over 13.7 pounds-per-square-inch. The process is done at the well site.

Eighty percent of producers in the Bakken already have the equipment needed.

"Operators are changing the way they operate their equipment at the well site to make sure we have a consistent stable product leaving the well site," Ritter said.

"Industry told us this week that they are ready to go," said Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council

Cutting says there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work for companies to prepare for today, some of it costly.

"Conditioning on a daily basis will cost 10-to-20 cents per barrel and when at production coming in over a million barrels per day, that's a significant cost," Cutting said.

But are the rules a catch 22? The conditioning order isn't the only set of regulations the oil industry needs to meet.

To reduce the amount of natural gas being flared, companies must also meet gas capture goals outlined in an industrial commission order.

"With flaring and conditioning, they are both targeted on how the natural gas liquids are managed in the crude oil stream," Cutting said. "So they are really pushing separate directions. That's a tough one."

Regulators say it can be done.

"So it's going to be real tough for operators to be in compliance," Ritter said. "But when you're the No. 2 oil producer in the country, you have these forces that are working and pulling against you."

Due to the conditioning rules, the flaring of natural gas is expected to increase by two percent.