Federal regulators investigate Sacagawea Pipeline

NEW TOWN, N.D. -- Federal pipeline regulators will be in North Dakota this week investigating complaints about an oil pipeline recently installed under Lake Sakakawea.

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The Sacagawea Pipeline is pictured under construction on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in Mountrail County, N.D., near Lake Sakakawea. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

NEW TOWN, N.D. - Federal pipeline regulators will be in North Dakota this week investigating complaints about an oil pipeline recently installed under Lake Sakakawea.

Personnel from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are investigating claims from former crew members on the Sacagawea Pipeline that the coating of the pipe was not properly inspected before it was installed under the lake.

The federal agency is expected to conduct interviews in North Dakota this week and investigate the complaints. The owner of the pipeline contracting company has said the claims are false accusations made by workers who were fired.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission also has jurisdiction over the oil pipeline, but the safety allegations fall under the federal agency's area of authority, said PSC Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak.

So far, the federal regulators have not notified state regulators that the Sacagawea Pipeline is out of compliance, Fedorchak said Monday, Sept. 19.


"Our staff has been pushing them to keep us informed on what's going on," Fedorchak said.

The Public Service Commission is investigating other complaints about the Sacagawea Pipeline related to construction practices and reclamation. Fedorchak said she expects staff to complete a report about those concerns soon.

Meanwhile, officials from the Three Affiliated Tribes are appealing a judge's decision in a federal court case involving the oil pipeline and a companion natural gas gathering pipeline that's currently under construction.

Paradigm Energy Partners, the company constructing the 70-mile pipelines, filed the case in U.S. District Court after tribal officials issued a cease and desist order to stop pipeline construction. Tribal officials say the company was required but failed to get the tribe's permission to begin pipeline installation under Lake Sakakawea.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland recently granted the company's request for a preliminary injunction, which prevents tribal officials from interfering with pipeline construction.

In his ruling, Hovland wrote that Paradigm has the necessary permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to drill under the lake and was not required to get consent of the tribe.

Tribal officials have filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The pipelines will transport oil and natural gas from McKenzie County to Mountrail County, crossing Lake Sakakawea south of New Town. The 16-inch steel pipelines will be installed at least 100 feet below the lakebed.


The oil pipeline, which will transport 140,000 barrels of oil per day, is complete, and the natural gas pipeline is in earlier stages of construction, according to court records.

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