Oil and Gas

Oil shipper backs down in Bakken sulfide gas dispute

NEW YORK, May 31 (Reuters) - Oil shipper Plains Marketing LP has agreed to limit the amount of crude containing high amounts of a dangerous gas it ships on Enbridge Energy Partners LP’s North Dakota pipeline system, according to a filing with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week.

Three days after discovering that high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas were in oil carried on the pipeline, Enbridge filed a request with FERC on May 8 to limit the amount of gas traveling through the system. It cited concerns about employee health when the crude was moved from the pipeline and onto rail cars at Berthold, North Dakota, for further shipping.

Plains Marketing, part of Plains All American Pipeline LP , initially asked FERC to reject Enbridge’s request, citing “serious economic harm”.

After Enbridge said the issue could force it to close the 80,000 barrel-per-day Berthold oil loading facility, Plains said in a Wednesday FERC filing it no longer “disputes the need to implement this standard on an expedited basis.”

Plains declined further comment.

An Enbridge spokeswoman said on Friday in an emailed statement the company is waiting for FERC to issue a ruling on the original filing before commenting further.

“Enbridge’s top priority at all times is the safety of our employees and of the people who live and work along our pipeline systems,” she said in the email.

FERC is expected to make a decision on Enbridge’s request on June 7.

Shipping crude oil by rail out of North Dakota has more than doubled in the last three years due to a lack of pipeline capacity connecting the state to refining markets.

Enbridge had sought on May 8 to limit to 5 ppm the amount of sulfide gas in the crude after the company said it found 1,200 ppm (parts per million) in one of its tanks, noting levels over 200 ppm could cause respiratory failure in seconds.

On May 17, Enbridge said it would accept crude oil with higher levels of the potentially deadly sulfide gas with advanced notice. It also said in the FERC filing that it would shut down an injection facility should a shipper try to funnel crude with high sulfide gas through without prior approval.

Plains currently ships around 7,000 barrels per day of crude on the Enbridge line, approximately one-third of which has a hydrogen sulfide component of 5 ppm or greater, it said in the filing.

Should FERC grant Enbridge the right to accept crude with high levels of sulfide gas at its own discretion, it would give it “a vast degree of power over the business of its shippers” with tens of thousands of barrels of oil “hanging in the balance,” Plains said.

Plains urged regulators to hold a “technical conference” and have Enbridge explain how its new system would work and whether certain receipt points along the pipeline system are more susceptible to containing high levels of sulfide gas.

Murex Petroleum Corp, Hess Corp and Marathon Oil Corp have also filed so-called motions to intervene in Enbridge’s request in the last two weeks.