Oil pipeline developer ends private security in North Dakota

The developer of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline said Wednesday that it no longer has private security personnel in North Dakota, including a firm that state regulators say operated illegally without a license.

"We continue to have security measures in place in North Dakota, just no longer need boots on the ground," Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email to The Associated Press.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board last week asked a state judge to block North Carolina-based TigerSwan's armed workers from continuing to monitor the pipeline system. The board said TigerSwan had no license during the height of the protests and continued operating after being denied one.

Granado said in her email that TigerSwan stopped providing security services in the "last couple of weeks."

TigerSwan said it ended work with Dallas-based ETP near the end of June.

TigerSwan was founded by retired military special forces members. The regulatory board alleges in court documents that TigerSwan employees with semi-automatic rifles and handguns protected workers and equipment at construction sites, conducted intelligence on protesters including placing or trying to place undercover agents within the protest groups, and even monitored traffic on a state highway. The board also said TigerSwan continued to provide round-the-clock security along the pipeline in the state.

The board has requested administrative fines be levied against the company and its president, James Reese, for operating without a license, a misdemeanor carrying a potential sentence of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

According to the board, it notified TigerSwan in September that the company wasn't properly licensed, and the company denied conducting private security in the state but at the same time applied for a license. The board denied the request in December, citing in court documents Reese's alleged criminal history without specifying the offenses. The board said Reese told the group he had never been convicted of a crime. A month later, the board rejected the application again, saying it was incomplete.

Monte Rogneby, an attorney for the board, said a court hearing has yet to be scheduled in state district court in Bismarck.

"Right now, it's very much in the preliminary stages," he said. "We're still sorting out the facts."

North Dakota's governor, its military leader, and law enforcement said they didn't know TigerSwan been operating in the state without a license. Officials said the board did not have an obligation under state law to inform anyone about the issue.

The Morton County sheriff's department, which led the law enforcement response to the protests, was left out of the loop, spokeswoman Maxine Herr said.

"We did our job," Herr said. "It would have been nice to know if they weren't supposed to be there."