Pipeline hearing prompts inquiry into landowner complaints

A company operating a natural gas pipeline near Minot is following up on landowner complaints raised at a Public Service Commission hearing on another pipeline project last week.

PSC member Brian Kalk said representatives with Aux Sable, operators of the Pecan pipeline, are looking into concerns raised by two residents who testified at the Feb. 27 hearing on Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline, which would carry crude oil through a similar corridor route. Enbridge owns Aux Sable.

Landowners reported holes, uneven soil and other problems where the Pecan pipeline crosses farmland northwest of Minot.

Kalk said further investigation showed that the PSC did not site the Pecan pipeline, as had been the understanding at the February hearing. The PSC initially had reviewed the Pecan project, determining it did not need state siting approval. The pipeline is a gathering line, subject to local siting jurisdiction.

Because the PSC was not involved, there would have been no state construction inspection, Kalk said.

However, the problems experienced by the Minot-area landowners in trying to get resolution troubles the PSC, he said.

“Their concerns are valid. They just never got to the right people,” Kalk said. “This has not been the first time where this has happened around the state.”

During a North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting Monday, Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, presented a proposal for implementing a “pipeline hotline” recommended by a North Dakota Petroleum Council task force.

The plan is for the Industrial Commission to develop and manage an online incident reporting form for surface owners to report pipeline issues and submit photos. Using legal land descriptions from the surface owners, the Industrial Commission could identify and contact the pipeline operators.

Pipeline operators would need to maintain a list of contacts with the commission. Multiple complaints or significant issues would result in a visit from a Department of Mineral Resources inspector, a notice of violation and potential civil penalties.

The task force recommends a follow-up mechanism with the operator and landowner to ensure problems get resolved. The Agriculture Commission’s mediation services also could be used to help settle issues between landowners and pipeline operators, according to the Industrial Commission.

Kalk said a pipeline hotline could alert the PSC in instances where it has jurisdiction. He added he supports broader PSC jurisdiction to include intrastate hazardous liquid pipelines that now are regulated by the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. State officials have been discussing having greater involvement over these pipelines since last September’s oil leak near Tioga.

The PSC has siting authority over the Sandpiper, which enters Ward County near Berthold and would run between Minot and Minot Air Force Base. The public hearings have concluded, but the review will be ongoing for several weeks. Kalk said the commission could release its decision by early summer.