Dakota Access developer granted hearing delay in dispute

By BLAKE NICHOLSON Markets Associated Press

North Dakota regulators on Tuesday granted a request by the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline to postpone a public hearing on whether the company violated state rules, though not without dissent.

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Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak expressed frustration with continued delays in the prolonged case and a related lengthy investigation, saying she was "concerned that we keep pushing things back and just aren't making forward progress."

Her comments came a day after she said Energy Transfer Partners at times had been "somewhat dismissive" of the commission's concerns.

Company attorney Lawrence Bender on Tuesday declined comment on the Texas-based developer's dealings with the commission.

The commission is looking into whether ETP removed too many trees and improperly handled some soil during construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline that began moving North Dakota oil to Illinois in June. Thursday's hearing was to provide information for the commission to decide whether to pursue the case and possibly fine Energy Transfer Partners.

The company on Monday requested a delay to give attorneys on both sides more time to discuss a resolution. The commission voted 2-1 Tuesday to grant a delay, with the expectation that the hearing will be rescheduled for late September. Fedorchak voted against the move.

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"We can't determine with the facts that we have on the table right now whether to proceed with a complaint or not, so this investigation was supposed to be a process to get to the bottom of those issues," she said. "So that (was) set for Thursday, and now that's slipping another month."

The commission's decision came a day after it offered to settle allegations that ETP improperly reported the discovery of American Indian artifacts during construction nearly a year ago. The company hasn't yet decided whether to accept the offer, under which it would make a $15,000 "contribution" to historic preservation efforts and wouldn't have to admit fault.

Commissioners Randy Christmann and Brian Kroshus, who voted in favor of delaying the tree and soil hearing, expressed hope that a delay might lead to a similar potential resolution. A formal public hearing would involve time-consuming legal procedures and could stretch over two days, Christmann said.

"I think it's not so much a matter of public or not, it's a matter of the informality of it," Christmann said of the belief that private talks among attorneys might be more fruitful than a hearing open to the public.

Separately, a North Carolina-based company is asking a state judge to dismiss a complaint alleging it illegally provided security services in North Dakota to ETP.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board in late June sued TigerSwan and its president, James Reese, saying the company had no license to operate in North Dakota during protests against the pipeline and continued operating after applying for one but being denied.

The company maintains it provided only management consulting services to ETP, and that the physical security work was handled by other companies hired by ETP and ETP's contractors.

The state board is seeking administrative fines potentially totaling thousands of dollars. Attorney Monte Rogneby declined comment on TigerSwan's request, citing the ongoing litigation.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced Tuesday that North Dakota is getting $10 million through a federal Justice Department grant program to help pay state law enforcement bills related to months of protests over the pipeline.

North Dakota is facing a $38 million bill that taxpayers ultimately might have to pay. Gov. Doug Burgum last spring asked President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration, but the request was denied.

There also is a longstanding offer from ETP to pay the state costs, which Burgum hasn't yet ruled out.

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