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Oil Patch farmers getting help with pipeline problems

TIOGA, N.D. - It's taken as long as 2 1/2 years for western North Dakota farmer Dennis Johnsrud to resolve one issue with a pipeline company. But now Johnsrud is seeing results a lot quicker after using a new Department of Agriculture program aim...

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Dustin Johnsrud stands in a hole on his property north of Epping, N.D., in Williams County in July 2015 that developed after a pipeline was installed in the field. Dustin and his father, Dennis, have used a Department of Agriculture program to resolve issues related to pipeline reclamation. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY DENNIS JOHNSRUD)

TIOGA, N.D. – It’s taken as long as 2½ years for western North Dakota farmer Dennis Johnsrud to resolve one issue with a pipeline company.

But now Johnsrud is seeing results a lot quicker after using a new Department of Agriculture program aimed at settling disputes between landowners and companies.

“It gives you a voice,” said Johnsrud, who lives north of Epping in Williams County. “We’re getting run over here in western North Dakota.”

The Department of Agriculture hosted public hearings in Tioga and Watford City on Monday to discuss its pipeline reclamation and restoration pilot program established by the Legislature earlier this year.

The program connects landowners and tenants with an independent ombudsman who helps resolve concerns with companies related to restoring the land.

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“They won’t ignore the ombudsman,” Johnsrud said. “They can ignore us and get away with it.”

The department has received 22 complaints so far, with the top complaints related to uneven ground, loss of topsoil, vegetation that was not restored properly and noxious weed control, said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

“We’re just going to help establish some communication and a reasonable approach to what’s going on,” Goehring said. “This is about taking some of that emotion out of it, letting us be the third party.”

Landowners who attended the hearing in Tioga complained about how long it takes to get results when pipeline companies shift blame to a subcontractor or another operator.

“You can pass the buck all the time, meanwhile I’m not getting anything done,” said Tioga farmer Tim Sundhagen, who said he’s lost time in the field while talking to up to 12 people on one issue.

Landowner Rose Person said pipeline company staff turnover is high and it would save landowners time if they updated landowners once a year with the right contact person.

The ombudsman program aims to help landowners find the responsible party, Goehring said.

“If we start getting the runaround, we’re going to do some digging,” Goehring said.

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Johnsrud said his one complaint to the Department of Agriculture involved about 15 separate issues, including a hole 8 feet deep his son, Dustin, discovered this spring while working in the field.

The company installed the pipeline during the winter and pushed frozen soil chunks into the trench, Johnsrud said. But the chunks of frozen dirt were mostly ice and when that melted, it caused a hole, he said.

Others also voiced concerns about winter construction of pipelines, particularly the loss of topsoil when the ground is too frozen to separate it from the subsoil.

Goehring said he now recommends that companies planning winter pipeline construction separate the topsoil in the fall and come back in the spring and replace it, preventing a lot of issues down the road.

“That would help tremendously,” Goehring said.

Nearly a dozen representatives from pipeline companies and oil companies attended the Tioga hearing and offered to talk to attendees individually about their concerns. Another 85 people attended a similar meeting in Watford City.

The program assists landowners with issues related to non-transmission pipelines installed after Jan. 1, 2006.

North Dakota has an estimated 20,000 miles of underground gathering pipelines. Goehring said the state is projected to have 36,000 miles of pipelines by 2020.

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“We recognize that there is an element out there of frustration and fatigue, just based on the fact that a lot of you have dealt with pipelines for a long period of time,” Goehring said.


Online: For more information about the pipeline reclamation and restoration program, including tips for successfully working with pipeline companies, visit http://www.nd.gov/ndda/program/pipeline-restoration-and-reclamation-oversight-program

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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