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Weather plays role in Dunn County pipeline exposure

North Dakota Public Service commissioners hired an extra set of eyes Wednesday to conduct inspections of a pipeline project after extraordinary weather left a portion of pipe exposed in Dunn County earlier this year.

A section of a 77-mile pipeline project headed by Bridger Pipeline LLC running through parts of Dunn, McKenzie and Billings counties was affected by extremely moist conditions, Commissioner Brian Kalk said during a meeting at the State Capitol.

"The hill fell away from underneath it," Kalk said, adding that the company was in compliance throughout construction.

The PSC conducts a post-construction inspection on every project, but this project will also be looked at before it is finished. The Commission awarded a contract to Wenck & Associates to ensure that construction practices meet proper standards.

"Usually we don't do this, but due to the extraordinary circumstances, we feel compelled to have someone look at it before it is done," Commissioner Kevin Cramer said.

Due to an increase in the number of inspections a few years ago, the PSC began contracting with outside engineering firms to conduct some checks, Cramer said.

"We don't have the people in-house who have the time to do it," he said.

The Bridger project was not the only pipeline affected.

The exposed pipes were located by a separate business, Dakota Gasification Co., while it was conducting routine checks of adjacent pipeline, according to a report of extraordinary event submitted to the PSC by DGC.

Natural gas pressure in the DGC pipeline had to be reduced and a section of sagging pipe needed to be replaced due to the sliding terrain, according to the DGC report.

Cramer said DGC made the "assertion that the extraordinary events were caused by, or at least enhanced by, the construction of Bridger Pipeline," but said the PSC will not pass judgment because there was not a formal complaint filed and the weather and natural forces this spring were very unusual.

Wenck Senior Engineer Kevin Magstadt said that his company will travel the length of the pipeline as part of the checkup.

"We will be inspecting the terrain to ensure there are no bad areas for the potential pipeline," he said.

Kalk said the project may be delayed because the company might have to rework areas it thought were completed. He said there may be more settling if moist conditions persist, but that the inspection process will not hinder construction unless there are noncompliant practices.

Cramer said he is an advocate for using contract engineers because it puts another set of expert eyes on the project, which he said is needed in this situation.

"This is a unique situation that requires more diligence and we are hiring an engineering firm that will work specifically for the citizens of North Dakota to ensure construction is done to minimize any adverse impact," he said.