Vote on huge pipeline nears, but one PSC member bows out: Christmann cites conflict of interest now that route crosses relative’s property

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Public Service Commission moved one step closer Monday to approving what would be the largest crude oil pipeline in the Bakken, but one of the panel's three members said he won't vote on it because the revised pipelin...

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Public Service Commission moved one step closer Monday to approving what would be the largest crude oil pipeline in the Bakken, but one of the panel's three members said he won’t vote on it because the revised pipeline route crosses a relative's property.

Commissioners had some unresolved questions about the Dakota Access Pipeline, but after a work session Monday the project is likely headed to a vote on Jan. 20.

Energy Transfer Partners proposes to build a 1,134-mile pipeline that would carry Bakken crude from North Dakota to Patoka, Ill. The project would initially carry 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said Monday he will no longer participate in discussions on Dakota Access because he’s learned the pipeline will now cross his mother-in-law’s property.

In April, Christmann notified other commissioners that the route would go near his mother-in-law’s property, but at that time he didn’t feel he had a conflict of interest.


The route has since changed, and now his mother-in-law is negotiating an easement with Dakota Access, Christmann said.

“Based on these changed facts, I’m now recusing myself from further participation in this case,” Christmann said.

Commissioner Brian Kalk said that the commission has procedures in place in case they need a third vote.

A group of several landowners who had intervened in the case have reached agreements with Dakota Access, said the commission’s attorney, Zachary Pelham. That means Dakota Access has now negotiated voluntary easements for 95 percent of the route in North Dakota, Pelham said.

“The fact that they’ve signed up leads me to believe that they’re making some pretty serious commitments on reclamation,” said chairwoman Julie Fedorchak.

One issue commissioners wanted to have resolved before voting on the project was how Dakota Access would work with Enbridge in areas where the competitors have pipelines that would be close together.

The two companies reached an agreement filed earlier this month that specifies that the pipelines will be constructed 50 feet apart when possible and no less than 25 feet apart. The agreement also outlines who will be responsible for reclamation if construction of the Dakota Access and the Enbridge Sandpiper line happens at the same time.

Fedorchak said the agreement should help address concerns raised by members of the public about which company would be responsible for reclamation in areas where the construction zones overlap.


In addition, third-party construction inspectors can help identify which company is responsible for restoring the land, Fedorchak said.

“I feel that we can address a lot of those concerns through the construction inspection process,” Fedorchak said.

The project has received regulatory approval from utility commissions in South Dakota and Illinois but still needs approval in North Dakota and Iowa.

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