Kalk talks energy on regional campaign swing

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk has been traveling the state to chat with folks about his plans to seek re-election this fall.

Thursday found him having coffee at The View in Minot to talk about energy issues with about a dozen residents of the assisted living center and several other Minot residents interested in his campaign.

“I never envisioned the job becoming what it has become in the last six years,” the Republican commissioner said of his first term. North Dakota’s energy industry has boomed in that period of time, creating an increasing number of issues related to pipeline regulation by the PSC.

“I look at those challenges as opportunities, not roadblocks,” he said. “This is an opportunity to make sure we develop our infrastructure the right way.”

Kalk was first elected in 2008. Fargo businessman Todd Reisenauer is seeking the Democratic endorsement this weekend in Fargo to challenge Kalk, who will look for his party’s support at its state convention in Minot April 4-6.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, a Republican, also is seeking election to the two years remaining in the position to which she was appointed. State Sen. Tyler Axness of Fargo, looks to run for the seat on the Democratic ticket.

Kalk, a retired Marine and former North Dakota State University professor, kicked off his four-day campaign swing in his hometown of Bottineau and in Dunseith Wednesday. He made stops in Williston and Stanley before arriving in Minot to thank supporters, listen to their thoughts and announce his re-election bid.

Fielding questions, Kalk voiced doubt about whether the Keystone Pipeline will happen without federal legislation, which North Dakota’s congressional delegation is pushing in response to the Obama Administration’s lack of action on the pipeline request.

Kalk said three companies are ready to come to the PSC with requests to build connecting pipeline in the Dickinson area if the Keystone goes forward. Keystone would be good for moving Bakken oil, but other pipeline projects also are in the works, Kalk said, citing Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper that is under PSC siting review and BakkenLink. Sandpiper would carry 225,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude eastward across the state toward a destination in Wisconsin. BakkenLink would carry 65,000 barrels a day, with expansion potential to 100,000 barrels a day, from Williams County south to a rail loading facility in Fryburg, in the southwestern corner of the state. Up to 100,000 barrels of day could be transported through a connection to the Montana segment of the Keystone.

Pipelines are necessary to reduce the demand to haul oil on railroads, which is making it difficult for agriculture shippers to access rail transport, Kalk said.

“You have to build your pipelines and build them safely,” he said. He had backed a legislative increase in fines from $5,000 to $25,000 for safety violations and believes fines could be higher. In visiting with regulators in other states with more experience with the oil industry, he said, the ability to suspend licenses of violators is essential in prompting some companies to take notice. The PSC will be asking the North Dakota Legislature to authorize the right to suspend licenses in certain instances.

Kalk also supports state oversight of those pipelines that start and end in the state but are regulated by federal agencies.

“If we are going to be a world-class energy developer, why don’t we take responsibility for that?” he said of the state. “If something goes wrong, they are going to call my office. We can better manage it than the feds can.”

The PSC also is working on rules for wind farm decommissioning.

“Because someday, the wind farms will come down,” Kalk said.

The rules likely will require a bond for reclamation, he said. He noted the PSC is developing the rules at the direction of the Legislature, which already is requiring that non-producing turbines be removed if inactive for a year.

In leaving Minot, Kalk took his message Thursday to Devils Lake and Grafton and will be in Grand Forks, Fargo, Wahpeton, Milnor, Valley City and Jamestown today. On Saturday, he travels to Wishek, Bismarck, Mandan, Beulah and Dickinson.