Analysts Warn of NorthWestern Crossing Yellowstone River Pipeline | State and Region

River experts warn of the location of a proposed gas pipeline under the Yellowstone River near Laurel.

In a report filed with Yellowstone County this week, Water Rights Inc. raised concerns about the southward migration of the river into the proposed Byron Pipeline crossing area.

Byron is intended to cross under the Yellowstone about half a mile downstream from the Highway 212 bridge. Emerging on the north bank, it would be connected to a 175-megawatt gas-fired power plant proposed by NorthWestern Energy.

A group of south shore neighbors along the pipeline route hired Water Rights Inc. out of fear of potential pipeline damage in the area. The neighbors are represented by EarthJustice, an environmental law firm. Yellowstone County is considering whether to grant NorthWestern a floodplain permit for the project.

“Moving the pipeline very much depends on who pays the price for failure,” Water Rights concluded. NorthWestern originally proposed to cross Laurel-owned Riverside Park, but disagreement with the city council over the right-of-way forced a new route.

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The Yellowstone River meanders significantly near the proposed new site north of Lance Lane, in part because the north bank of the river has been girded against erosion with rip rap to protect the water system intake Laurel and Billings Bench Canal. The bank has moved 1,000 feet south over the past 70 years.

“As proposed by NorthWestern Energy, the 175 foot setback for the drill entry site is not sufficient. The bank in this area has eroded over 1,000 feet to the south and with no bank stabilization on the south bank; we expect the river to erode to the entrance site, which could expose the pipe,” Water Rights concluded.

Water Rights recommended moving the pipeline upstream where the riprap borders both sides of the river.

NorthWestern Energy acknowledged the report earlier this week in a response posted by spokesperson Jo Dee Black.

“Crossing a river involves calculations related to projected erosion areas and NorthWestern Energy’s plan addresses these concerns. Over the long term and under a separate permitting process, NorthWestern Energy will take steps to protect our investment in this infrastructure if needed, such as erosion mitigation measures, which align with landowner interests. of the region.

NorthWestern noted that Water Rights Inc. has recognized that pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas. He also acknowledged an earlier letter from Accufacts, an engineering analyst that raised concerns about potential corrosion risks specific to the Byron Pipeline. NorthWestern plans to drill the pipeline well below the river bed.

The Yellowstone River has a habit of digging into the bottom of the river and exposing the pipelines. Upstream of the Byron Crossing Project, the river exposed the Exxon-owned Silvertip Pipeline in 2011. The pipe burst, spilling 42,000 gallons of oil into the river. Exxon and pipeline regulators had assumed that Silvertip was 12 to 15 feet below the riverbed.

After the failure of Silvertip, several pipelines were drilled deeper below the river, down to 30 to 40 feet, which NorthWestern intends to do.

The permitting process has not been smooth sailing for NorthWestern, which withdrew its initial application for a floodplain permit after neighbors along the pipeline route filed a lawsuit claiming they did not had never been informed that the pipeline had been moved in their neighborhood.

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