McKenzie County sheriff charged over questionable Vegas expenses

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The McKenzie County sheriff is facing a criminal charge for allegedly using a county credit card to charge nearly $1,000 in unauthorized expenses during a trip to Las Vegas this year.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation issued a court summons to Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger on Wednesday for a Class A misdemeanor charge of misapplication of entrusted property.

Court documents filed in Northwest Judicial Court say Schwartzenberger made the unauthorized charges to the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office credit card account while attending the Western States Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas in March.

The charges detailed in the court documents totaled about $980 and included a $556 plane ticket for Schwartzenberger’s wife, a $96 upgrade for a convertible, about $120 for a golf outing and $120 for a meal at South Point Casino, in excess of the per diem for the day.

The documents say the charges were made without prior approval, which is required by county policy. The charges were not repaid for several months and resulted in the credit card being shut down by the bank for late payments, court records say.

Schwartzenberger paid back the money to McKenzie County several months later after numerous attempts by the auditor’s office to seek repayment, the documents say.

When contacted by Forum News Service, Schwartzenberger declined to discuss the specifics of the allegations, but confirmed that the credit card charges have been repaid.

“When the sheriff does his job, he doesn’t always make friends,” Schwartzenberger said. “The truth will come out at trial.”

Schwartzenberger is to appear in court Dec. 2.

McKenzie County Commission Chairman Richard Cayko said Thursday that commissioners have not discussed the criminal complaint.

“We haven’t had it officially brought before us,” Cayko said.

The McKenzie County State’s Attorney’s Office referred questions to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.

Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said her office does not comment on open cases.

Schwartzenberger, a 50-year-old Watford City native and retired Marine, has served as sheriff since Jan. 1 after getting elected last November. Prior to his election, Schwartzenberger had worked for the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office for two years before taking a year off to work in the oilfields.

The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, in the heart of the Bakken Oil Patch, has been growing to keep up with a rise in crime that has accompanied a growing population. The county, which has about 25 deputies, broke ground in June on a $57 million law enforcement center that will include a 129-bed jail.

Water suppliers irked by end of of emergency program

WILLISTON, N.D. – A group that supplies water for the oil industry says a drilling slowdown doesn’t mean it’s time to end an emergency water supply rule.

The Independent Water Providers ask in a letter this week that the state engineer’s office reconsider its decision to discontinue a program that allows irrigation water to be sold to the oil industry for hydraulic fracturing.

The state engineer’s office began allowing irrigation permit holders to sell water to the oil industry in 2011 through the Industrial Water Use in Lieu of Irrigation Policy to meet the high industry demand for water.

But the policy will be discontinued Dec. 31 because the Bakken now has more available water supplies and demand for water has decreased with the slowdown in drilling and fracking, the state engineer’s office announced last month.

Steve Mortenson, president of the Independent Water Providers, called the decision anti-business and said permit holders were not given a chance to provide input or modify their businesses, leaving some with millions of dollars in assets stranded.

In addition, Mortenson said the water providers have heard from oil industry customers who are concerned about the added costs for water in some areas due to reduced supplies or increased transportation costs.

“They should have let the market decide,” said Mortenson, who lives near Trenton.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council also is studying how the policy change will affect industry. Ron Ness, president of the industry group, said Wednesday that reducing the number of water sources will mean increased costs and travel for oil companies.

“There’s no question it will cause more truck traffic,” Ness said.

The timing of the decision – announced in mid-October – also gives oil companies little time to adjust their drilling plans, Ness said.

“This has impacts immediately and companies were making big plans around some of these water facilities,” Ness said. “A little more time may be the answer.”

The Independent Water Providers also are advocating for a longer timeline. Permit holders who met with the state engineer’s office were under the impression that the policy would continue through 2016 and were surprised to learn of the abrupt end, Mortenson said.

Jon Patch, director of water appropriations, said participants were told from the beginning that the program would eventually end and they were advised of the risks of making investments.

“We used emergency authority allowed under state law to implement the policy,” Patch said. “It was known by all parties that it would end as emergency needs subsided.”

Two areas with insufficient water sources, one in Divide County and one in Williams County, will be allowed to use the program through Sept. 15, 2016. That accounts for about one-third of the water permits, Patch said.

Several of the temporary permit holders have applied for permanent conditional industrial permits and were hoping to get those reviewed in a timely manner, Mortenson said.

Patch said reviews of such permit applications can take years because they involve a complex and scientifically-based process.

“Those are in the queue and we’re doing our best to diligently go through the process,” Patch said.

In his letter to State Engineer Todd Sando, Mortenson asks that the issue be discussed at the State Water Commission’s Dec. 11 meeting.

When North Dakota’s drilling activity was at its peak in 2012, the program provided the oil industry with 1.34 billion gallons of water through 33 permits held by 26 users, accounting for one-fourth of the oil industry’s water use, according to the state engineer’s office.

This year, the program has 34 permits, but accounts for less than 10 percent of the oil industry’s water usage.

Williams County uses the most water from the program, followed by McKenzie and Divide counties. Stark and Mountrail counties also participate, but their use is negligible.

Heat caused Montana train derailments, BNSF says

CULBERTSON, Mont. – Two July train derailments in eastern Montana, including one that spilled 35,000 gallons of Bakken crude, were caused by tracks that buckled in the heat, according to BNSF Railway.

BNSF attributes the July 16 incident that caused 22 oil tankers to derail east of Culbertson to “thermal misalignment,” also known as sun kink, which occurs when rail tracks expand when heated and buckle.

The company also attributes the same cause to the July 14 train derailment about 10 miles west of Culbertson, said BNSF spokesman Matthew Jones.

The Federal Railroad Administration said Tuesday the agency’s investigation into the derailments is still ongoing.

BNSF reported to the FRA that the two derailments caused $3.2 million in damage, including nearly $2 million in equipment damage and more than $1.2 million in track damage.

In the July 16 incident, a westbound train containing 106 crude oil tankers that had been loaded in Trenton, N.D., derailed about 5 miles east of Culbertson. Twenty-two tankers derailed, with five cars releasing oil, according to information submitted to the FRA.

BNSF and contractors recovered the spilled oil and removed and replaced about 3,900 cubic yards of contaminated soil, Jones said.

On July 14, nine cars on an eastbound mixed merchandise train derailed west of Culbertson, but the cars remained upright and did not cause a spill.

BNSF inspects tracks and bridges more frequently than required by the FRA, including visual inspections and inspections using rail cars equipped with advanced technology, Jones said.

Meanwhile, a legislative audit released last week highlights weaknesses in Montana’s oversight of rail safety, calling attention to a lack of emergency response resources in northeast Montana.

The report by the Montana Legislative Audit Division said the state’s rail safety inspection program is not adequate and first-responders are not adequately trained and equipped to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials.

Northeast Montana does not have a regional hazmat team, primarily due to a lack of hazmat trained and equipped firefighters and the lack of a full-time, salaried fire department, the report said. The closest hazmat team is in Billings, 300 miles from Culbertson.

When a new oil transloading facility in East Fairview, N.D., is at full capacity, Montana may see as many as 40 oil trains each week, the report said.

Montana’s Public Service Commission, which discussed the audit during a meeting Tuesday, would need statutory authority and resources from the state Legislature to expand its oversight of rail safety, said Eric Sell, a spokesman for the agency. Sell noted that the Federal Railroad Administration has primary oversight of rail safety.

BNSF train derailments that were caused by the tracks occurred at a rate of 0.38 incidents per million train miles last year, Jones said, noting the rate is 50 percent better than 10 years ago.

Another recent train derailment involving Bakken crude near Heimdal, N.D., remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Six oil tankers derailed and four caught fire in May.

OSHA investigating crash that killed worker

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating a fatal truck-pedestrian crash that killed a 20-year-old worker from Georgia this week.

Benjamin Enterman of Warner Robins, Ga., was taking measurements for an engineering company on and along Highway 23 when he was struck by a 2009 Kenworth driven by Jason Saran, 37, of Tucson, Ariz., about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the North Dakota Highway Patrol said.

Enterman, who worked for Stantec Consulting Services, died at the scene.

Enterman lived in the Watford City area while working for Stantec on a summer highway
construction project, said Don Armour, senior vice president for Stantec, with headquarters in Alberta, Canada.

“We’re deeply saddened by Ben’s death. He was a really valued member of our team,”
Armour said. “He was a remarkable young man, and we’re working and helping with the investigation to understand all the details of what happened in this tragedy.”

Enterman is survived by his parents and three siblings, Armour said.

While OSHA doesn’t do vehicle crash investigations, the agency may have jurisdiction in this case if the worker was in a construction zone as part of his job duties, said Eric Brooks, director of the Bismarck area OSHA office. An OSHA inspector was at the scene investigating, Brooks said.

“It is extremely important for employers to develop site-specific traffic control plans in order to minimize the likelihood of vehicle-related incidents,” Brooks said.

Jacob Rodenbiker, McKenzie County state’s attorney, said he could not comment on whether criminal charges are likely to result from the crash.

Public comment opens for proposed oilfield waste landfill

By Amy Dalrymple and Mike Nowatzki
Forum News Service

ROSS, N.D. – The State Department of Health opened a 30-day public comment period Wednesday for a proposed 39-acre oilfield waste landfill that would be located 3 miles south of Ross in Mountrail County.

The Black Mallard Disposal Facility would primarily accept solidified drill cuttings as well as soils or other materials contaminated by spills, said Oscar Allen, senior vice president of development for Green Group Holdings.

The landfill would not accept radioactive oilfield waste, regardless of what the state does with its rules for accepting such waste, Allen said.

The project is similar to a special waste landfill that a subsidiary of Green Group Holdings proposed for Dunn County, but commissioners there denied the project in May after strong opposition from residents and landowners.

In Mountrail County, local officials have been working with Green Group Holdings on the proposal for two years and granted a conditional use permit for the project, but included several requirements, said County Commission Chairman Arlo Borud.

One requirement by the county is that the landfill can’t accept filter socks or other naturally occurring radioactive material, Borud said.

All incoming waste will be screened and anything with a radioactivity level higher than 5 picocuries above background will be rejected, Allen said.

“That’s the level that we’ll adhere to,” Allen said.

Borud said he prefers disposing of drill cuttings in a special waste landfill, which will continue to be monitored 30 years after it’s closed, rather than companies burying cuttings in pits on individual well pads.

“I think it’s the better way for us to go to have it in one spot rather than all over the county,” Borud said.

The permit would allow the landfill to accept up to 200,000 tons of waste per year, with a projected lifespan of about 27 years. The facility would have an on-site inspector hired, trained and supervised by the health department.

“It meets all the state requirements,” said Scott Radig, the department’s waste management director.

The landfill is expected to have 18 to 20 trucks disposing of waste each day, Allen said. The company is developing a gravel access road to the facility and will be responsible for dust control and maintenance of the road, Borud said.

The State Health Council voted in August to adopt rules that would permit radioactivity levels in oilfield waste of up to 50 picocuries per gram, 10 times the current limit that forces companies to ship the waste out of state. By comparison, kitty litter has a radioactivity level of about 15 picocuries per gram and a granite countertop about 33 picocuries per gram, according to the health department.

Radig said he hopes the attorney general’s office will complete its review of the rules by the end of the week so they can be placed on the Dec. 7 agenda of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee for final approval. Otherwise, they may get pushed back to the first quarter of next year, he said.

The 30-day comment period on the landfill ends Nov. 27. A public hearing is tentatively set for 4 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Mountrail Council Fair Building in Stanley, but it will only be held if there’s sufficient public interest and the hearing is requested by Nov. 13.

To read the draft permit and submit public comment, visit

State adds flexibility on flaring,  completing oil wells

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted new policies Thursday to reward oil companies that exceed their gas capture goals and to allow producers to store oil in the ground until prices recover.

Companies that exceed gas capture goals for 90 days can bank credits for volumes of gas captured and apply them to future months if they fall below the benchmarks.

“The concept here is to reward companies that are doing better than the minimum,” said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the Industrial Commission, asked if there was any opportunity for companies to abuse the policy and start “flaring like crazy for a month for no reason.”

Helms, who recommended approval of the policy, said credits can only be used if a company encounters extenuating circumstances, such as delays getting right-of-way approval for pipelines or if a gas processing facility is down for maintenance.

The policy aims to motivate companies that are barely making the gas capture target, which is currently 77 percent, to raise the bar so they get credits in the bank, Helms said.

The credits expire after three months and they can’t be transferred to another company. The policy, which originated as a request from an industry task force, takes effect Nov. 1.

Helms said he anticipates companies to take advantage of the program in the winter, when maintenance issues are more common.

Last month, the Industrial Commission, which also includes Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, adopted revised gas capture goals that gave the industry an additional 10 months to meet the 85 percent gas capture goal.

In addition, commissioners voted unanimously to grant another six-month exemption from the natural gas flaring policy to XTO Energy for 102 wells, primarily in Dunn County. The commission granted an exemption to those wells in April after a pipeline project failed to move forward.

The Bear Creek natural gas processing plant under construction by ONEOK will serve those wells and is expected to be complete in fall of 2016.

Commissioners also adopted a new policy Thursday to address a growing number of wells that have been drilled but are still waiting on fracking crews as companies wait for oil prices to recover. The state had 993 wells considered “noncomplete” at the end of August. After one year on noncomplete status, the wells need to either become producing wells, be put on temporarily abandoned status or be plugged.

In December through March, about 100 wells per month will reach the one-year deadline.

Under the policy approved Thursday, operators can apply to have those wells put on temporarily abandoned status, giving them another year to store the oil in the ground. Royalty owners, land owners and nonoperating interest owners would have the opportunity to object.

Helms said he expects about 500 wells will be put on temporarily abandoned status, which will prompt a gradual decline in oil production from 1.19 million barrels per day to 1.1 million barrels per day at the end of the biennium in June 2017.

Most experts anticipate that oil prices will recover in 2017, Helms said.

“The state would prefer to tax the oil at a higher price at some point in the not-too-distant future as opposed to taxing it today at low oil prices,” Helms said.

Officials say 99.9 percent of oil spilled contained to well pad in Mountrail County

By Dustin Monke and Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service

WHITE EARTH, N.D. — The amount of oil and brine recovered from an oil well near the White Earth River reached 756,000 gallons Tuesday, though officials said 99.9 percent of the contamination was contained to the well pad.

An estimated 18,000 barrels of oil and brine water has been recovered so far, but the total amount spilled is still under investigation, said Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter.

“It’s a moving target,” Ritter said.

The Mountrail County well owned by Oasis Petroleum began releasing uncontrollably about 11 p.m. Saturday and remained out of control until crews shut it down just before 11 a.m. Tuesday. The well is less than 1,000 feet from the White Earth River.

The cause of the well control incident is under investigation, but preliminary information shows that a leak on a surface pipe likely failed, Oasis Petroleum said in a statement.

Bill Suess, spill investigations program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health, said 99.9 percent of the contamination stayed on the well pad. Some contamination misted off the location, causing a sheen on the White Earth River, a tributary to Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River, the primary drinking water source for southwest North Dakota.

Oasis placed 49 absorbent booms across the White Earth River since discovering the spill late Saturday night.

“The river is doing good. We’ve been up there, we’ve been monitoring the river,” Suess said. “We’ve seen no detection of impacts beyond that first set of booms. … We saw the sheen Sunday, but no sheen was visible (Monday).”

The oil sheen on the river was likely caused by airborne oil that sprayed away from the

A 40-acre vegetated area off the well pad was also “lightly sprayed” by the oil and brine
water mix, Suess said, and only accounted for a few barrels of what was released from the well.

While oil can be recovered from water with the absorbent booms, Suess said tracking the
brine water impact is trickier. Brine water is a highly concentrated water solution, often referred to as saltwater.

“You have to pretty much let it dilute and dissipate,” he said.

The Department of Health has been doing chloride testing along the White Earth River and at the mouth of the river, where it meets Lake Sakakawea.

“We’ve been collecting samples and running lab analysis that’ll give us a more detailed look,” Suess said. “The initial chloride testing we’ve been doing on site shows no impact of brine.”

No impacts to wildlife have been detected, Suess said.

It’s too early in the investigation to comment on whether Oasis will face penalties for the incident, Ritter said.

“These uncontrolled situations are some of the more serious of environmental incidents,” Ritter said.

Oasis was penalized $76,500 by the North Dakota Industrial Commission in May for a November 2014 well control incident. The company paid $16,500 and the Industrial Commission suspended $60,000 in fines for one year with the requirement that the company not commit any “same or substantially similar” violations.

It’s yet to be determined if the latest incident will be considered substantially similar to the 2014 incident, Ritter said. The 2014 incident occurred while the well was being fracked and the wellhead separated from the casing, causing the uncontrolled release.

In addition, the same well involved in this latest spill, known as Helling Trust 11-15H, also had a spill of 190 barrels, or 7,980 gallons, of oil and brine in January that was caused by a tank overflow, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The spill was contained within the dikes of the well pad and recovered.


External damage suspected in pipeline leak

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The company that operates a saltwater pipeline that leaked last week in McKenzie County is investigating what may have damaged the pipeline.

The pipeline owned by Hillstone Environmental Partners LLC leaked an estimated 800 barrels, or 33,600 gallons, of fluid last week, but the amount of contamination released is unknown, the North Dakota Department of Health said.

Bill Suess, spill investigations program manager, said the pipeline released a combination of produced water – a waste byproduct of oil development – and freshwater that was being used to pressure-test the pipeline after the leak was suspected.

“We know saltwater is there. How much of that release is freshwater and how much is saltwater, we won’t know for sure,” Suess said.

Testing has shown that the pipeline spill, reported Oct. 7, did not reach a nearby wetland, Suess said.

On the surface, the spill affected a narrow area of land along the pipeline right-of-way, he said. However, investigation continues into potential impacts to groundwater, Suess said.

The pipeline, installed in 2014, is operated by AE2S Operations and has technology that monitors the system for potential leaks, such as changes in flow and pressure, said spokeswoman Andrea Boe.

Staff discovered “subtle anomalies” in flow and pressure readings, which prompted them to conduct field and aerial inspections, Boe said. Staff also flushed the system with freshwater and pressure-tested each segment to identify the potential leak, she said.

After the leak was confirmed, the health department began investigating and the company worked to repair and test the pipeline, Boe said. The company continues to work with specialists to determine the extent of the impact and develop a remediation plan.

The leak was caused by external damage to the pipe, Boe said. The pipeline right-of-way has had other construction activity with several utility lines and pipelines running parallel to it, and the potential of a third-party strike is being investigated, she said.

The damaged segment of pipe will be tested at a lab to confirm the cause.

State celebrates $150 million solution to Williston traffic woes

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, right, congratulates the city of Williston, N.D., on the completion of a permanent truck reliever route on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, along with Williston Mayor Howard Klug, from left, and North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, right, congratulates the city of Williston, N.D., on the completion of a permanent truck reliever route on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, along with Williston Mayor Howard Klug, from left, and North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D.  – As one official put it, a new truck route will end “truckmageddon” in Williston.

Construction is now complete on a permanent truck reliever route around Williston, where traffic counts have grown 160 percent since 2008.

“The explosion of truck traffic during the Bakken boom, was as I would call it, ‘truckmageddon,’” said Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga, during an event Wednesday in Williston. “And it needed to be addressed.”

Traffic congestion was the No. 1 complaint of western North Dakota residents after the influx of oil activity, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

The state invested about $150 million on a permanent truck bypass around Williston, allowing trucks to travel up to 70 miles per hour on a 13-mile, four-lane route that connects U.S. Highway 85 and U.S. Highway 2.

The state also invested more than $27 million on a temporary bypass around Williston while the permanent route was in the works. In addition, the state has constructed truck routes that serve Dickinson, Watford City, Alexander, Killdeer and New Town.

“They’re essential. These towns cannot take this kind of commercial traffic right down the main street,” Dalrymple said. “It means a lot. It changes the way people feel about their community.”

Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil said the bypass will enhance the quality of life for local residents.

“We need to do more in that direction,” Kalil said.

About 29,000 vehicles travel through Williston each day, including about 4,700 trucks during the peak of oil traffic in 2012, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation. In 2008, the city had about 11,500 vehicles traveling through each day.

While there isn’t a specific ordinance restricting truck traffic from going through Williston, Highway Patrol trooper Matt Johnson said he thinks the vast majority of truckers will prefer the bypass.

“They’d rather not go through the lights,” Johnson said.


UPDATED: N.D. oil production down 1.7 percent in August

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota oil production dropped 1.7 percent in August, a time of year when production usually is on the rise.

The state produced nearly 1.19 million barrels per day in August, a drop of 20,552 barrels a day from July, according to preliminary numbers from the Department of Mineral Resources.

It was the first time in 12 years that North Dakota saw oil production drop in August.

“It is definitely not normal. August is almost always an up month,” Director Lynn Helms said Tuesday. “This is a reflection of what’s really happening in the industry in this prolonged low-price environment.”

Low oil prices continue to prompt companies to leave oil in the ground until prices recover, Helms said.

The state had a record 993 wells that were drilled but waiting on fracking crews at the end of August, an increase of 79 wells since July.

Companies also continue to cut back on drilling. The state had 67 drilling rigs operating Tuesday, the lowest since November 2009 and down from 191 a year ago.

At one time, North Dakota had five companies that operated 10 or more drilling rigs, Helms said. Today, no company has a rig count in the double-digits, with operators running eight or fewer rigs. Helms said the rig count could go as low as 60.

“They’ve retracted to a pretty low rig count and low completions numbers and they’re trying to weather the storm,” Helms said.

In addition, companies voluntarily reduced oil production in August by an estimated 10,000 barrels per day in order to comply with state flaring goals, Helms said.

North Dakota’s state budget is based on a production rate of about 1.1 million barrels per day. Helms said he anticipates a continued decline in production, climbing down to 1.1 million barrels per day by the end of the 2015-17 biennium.

If prices drop more, production could get closer to 1 million barrels per day by the end of the biennium, Helms said.

The top 10 companies that operate in the Bakken have indicated they can maintain production with oil prices at $50 for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, Helms said. The benchmark for growing production is when that price reaches $60, Helms said. On Tuesday, the WTI price was about $47.

North Dakota natural gas production decreased by 1 percent in August to an average of 1.6 billion cubic feet per day.

The percent of natural gas flared in August was 20 percent, the same percentage as July. The daily volume of Bakken natural gas flared in August increased 9.5 million cubic feet per day.

Forty-seven percent of Bakken crude was transported by rail in August, compared with 45 percent transported by pipeline, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

A majority of the rail shipments continue to go to the East Coast (59 percent) and the West Coast (21 percent).

North Dakota had 13,016 producing oil and gas wells at the end of August, a new all-time high.