PSC Complaint Against Dakota Access Proceeds

BISMARCK — A complaint against Dakota Access Pipeline alleging violations of the North Dakota permit will proceed to a hearing, the state’s Public Service Commission said Tuesday, Jan. 31.

Commissioners unanimously denied a motion from the company to dismiss a complaint related to the company’s failure to immediately notify regulators after cultural artifacts were found in the pipeline route in Morton County.

Staff for the Public Service Commission have proposed a $15,000 fine for violations of the permit, including rerouting the pipeline without clearance from the commission.

Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, argued the delay in notifying commissioners was not a “willful violation.”

The pipeline company discovered four stone cairns and other artifacts during construction on Oct. 17. Dakota Access notified the State Historic Preservation Office and rerouted the pipeline to avoid the artifacts. The company did not notify commissioners, who learned about the discovery about a week later from a third-party inspector.

The matter will now proceed to a hearing to determine the merits of the allegations unless the company reaches a settlement agreement with the commission.

Commissioner Brian Kalk said this case may test what weight commission orders really have.

“We put all these things in the order. If it’s so easy for a company to say, ‘we didn’t know,’ then we’ve got to change the way we do orders,” he said.

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, left, and Chairman Randy Christmann participate in a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Bismarck. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Tuesday was Kalk’s final day on the commission after he resigned to accept a job at the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

It will be up to Gov. Doug Burgum to appoint Kalk’s successor. The governor’s office is still in the process of collecting names and a date has not been set for the appointment, said spokesman Mike Nowatzki.

“I have a sense that they’re working very hard down there and they’ll probably make a decision relatively shortly,” said Kalk, who served two years of his second six-year term.

Burgum’s appointee will need to run in the general election in 2018 to complete the remainder of the term.

Commissioners said Kalk’s departure from the three-member commission will not delay scheduling the Dakota Access hearing or other business.

Commission Chairman Randy Christmann had previously abstained from voting on matters related to Dakota Access because the pipeline crosses land in Williams County that was recently deeded to his wife by his mother-in-law.

Christmann said Tuesday that after discussing the matter with legal staff, he didn’t consider it a conflict of interest to vote on the Dakota Access complaint case because it will have no impact on his wife’s property.