North Dakota officials on Tuesday issued a plea for three additional oil/natural gas inspectors to keep an eye on gathering pipeline systems that are sprouting up to support record production from the Bakken and Three Forks formations in the Williston Basin.

Pipeline inspector positions are available because the state has exceeded 15,000 oil and gas wells. State funding for the positions was allocated with the specification that it would be tapped when the 15,000-plus well mark was reached.

"In the past year, enough new gathering pipelines were laid in the ground to stretch from Seattle, WA, to Orlando, FL," said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). The DMR oversees the oil and gas division. Current estimates indicate up to 2,000 miles of added gathering pipeline will be constructed annually in the state.

"Filling these positions will be a valuable resource in continued regulatory oversight," he said.

New gathering pipeline installation rules took effect in April. In part, the rules require that pipe construction does not interfere with agriculture, and that pipe construction be backfilled in a way that provides firm support without damaging the line.

"Companies must submit an affidavit certifying they have installed pipelines in compliance with the rules," a DMR spokesperson said. The rules make the need for additional inspectors more urgent. Inspectors would investigate incidents related to the pipelines in addition to checking on new construction, according to DMR.

North Dakota's agricultural, ranching and landowning interests have been pushing for more inspectors, according to reports. Their concerns run the gamut from oil/natural gas wells to related salt water disposal and abandoned wells.

Producing wells in the state totaled 11,079 at the end of June, an increase of 51% in the past two years.

The inspectors would be based in field offices in the oil-rich cities of Minot, Dickinson and Williston, each paid up to $51,000 annually, with cost of living adjustments. They would be added to the current cadre of 32 inspectors statewide.

Midstream operators, such as units of Enbridge Inc. and Oneok Inc., have nearly 20,000 miles of pipelines throughout the state.