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North Dakota Public Service Commission presses Bridger on landslide details, spill prevention
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The corridor for a 27-mile gathering line that Bridger Pipeline Company wants to convert to a 29.4-mile transmission line lies inside an area where North Dakota Geological Survey data show 17 landslides have previously occurred. The company answered numerous questions about the potential for landslides in the area, as well as changes it has made to its spill prevention program in light of the company’s spill history.

Bridger was fined $1 million by the state of Montana for a 2015 crude oil spill into the Yellowstone River after a weld split open, putting the Glendive water supply at risk.

Bridger is owned by True Companies, which also owns Black Hills Trucking, fined $950,000 when one of its operators illegally dumped saltwater on a Williams County gravel road in 2014, and it owns Belle Fourche, responsible for one of North Dakota’s largest crude oil spills affecting water.

The Belle Fourche spill was caused by a slumping hillside, which cracked open a pipeline, ultimately releasing an estimated 12,615 barrels of crude oil near the Ash Coulee Creek, which feeds into the Little Missouri River, a tributary of the Missouri River, 16 miles northwest of Belfield in Billings County.

Kathleen Spilman, managing director at Keitu Engineers and Consultants testified that although there have been landslides in the project area before, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a high risk of future landslides that would affect a pipeline that is buried underground.

“You can actually make the case that Mother Nature has already done her work to help improve the stability of those areas,” she said. “Regardless, once construction goes through and puts an underground utility such as a pipeline there, it will actually taper the slope in the area, and actually improve the stabilization of the area.”

Spilman said engineers had to look at additional data to accurately assess landslide risks in the future for that area. These include looking at and evaluating the conditions that prompted the slide, then evaluating whether there are similar combinations that could threaten a pipeline that is buried underground.

“In doing that, we went back and we re-evaluated all of the areas,” she testified. “I’m comfortable that none of the areas as currently proposed are at risk for future landslides.”

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak pointed out the company has had landslides in the past that were pretty damaging, an oblique reference to the Belle Fourche spill, and asked what has changed with the company’s operations policies as a result of that.

Among steps the company took after that was the engagement of a company called Tetra Tech to evaluate all of the company’s pipelines in the Badlands area, to highlight any that need additional monitoring or remediation.

“Today, they haven’t uncovered any that need remediation, but did recommend several locations for continued monitoring on a regular basis,” Director of Land and Government Compliance for Belle Fourche and Bridger Ken Dockweiler testified. “We’re in conversation with him right now, getting ready for this summer to come back out and look at some of those locations and recheck those. So that’s probably the biggest change we’ve made, is just engaging with them to take a look at those.”

The company is also building a new control center in Capser, Wyoming which will include a video wall where all the data from electronic monitoring will be collected in one spot, for easy access to personnel monitoring the systems.

The company doing that for them has also been deploying leak simulations on a regular basis to see not only if the electronic system will catch it, but are the controllers realizing it is a problem as well.

“Basically what we do is we take a meter skid out to the pipeline and connect it into the pipeline somewhere at a valve set or something and take a specific quantity of oil off the pipeline and we see if the system catches it,” Dockweiler explained. “That’s been a great training tool for our controllers and for existing line balanced system, too, to see, is it catching it. Are they seeing it. And so that’s been really kind of a fun exercise — I don’t think the controllers necessarily like it when we trick them like that.”

The exercises have not been mandated by either state or federal entities.

In addition to company representatives, two individuals from the general public also testified, McKenzie County Planning and Zoning Director Curt Huus and Pamela Trhlik, director of Business Development and Government Relations for North Dakota Laborer’s International 563.

Trhlik testified that Laborer's International 563 supports the project, since it will move the pipeline from a gathering line with little to no scrutiny to a transmission line, which has much more regulatory oversight.

“We have watched over the years and been concerned about all the gathering lines that have gone in with virtually no oversight and so we’re actually very supportive of this project,” she said. “We are hoping Bridger will take safety and the utmost concern for North Dakota landowners and North Dakota land when it comes to this project.”

Huus talked about requirements McKenzie County would have had in addition to the PSC requirements under the old system, where the company would have required a Conditional Use Permit for above-ground portions of the line.

Those include painting any such facilities in earth tones, to blend in with surroundings, and pointing any lights downward, so they wouldn’t be creating light pollution.

STAR Fund helps businesses in Williston to open, expand
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Despite the pandemic Williston, has seen impressive growth in terms of economic development, with several new businesses popping up as other existing businesses change owners and expand their services.

The City of Williston STAR Fund has been pivotal in helping some businesses get off the ground, such as MVP Sport Break, who opened just weeks ago. Owners Patrick Fleming and Brock Schmidt opened up the business to sell sports memorabilia and trading cards, seeing an interest and need in the market. Fleming said as collectors themselves, he and Schmidt wanted to share their passion with fellow enthusiasts.

MVP Sport Break has a variety of trading cards for most sports, but Fleming said “The Big Three” are still the most popular sellers, baseball, basketball and football. The shop also has an impressive selection of memorabilia, from jerseys, balls, helmets and more, autographed by the likes of Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Mike Tyson, all with certificates of authenticity. MVP does carry a selection of Hollywood memorabilia, as well as non-sports trading cards such as Magic: The Gathering.

While only open for a few weeks, Fleming said the reception has already been overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of people have come in and said they’ve been waiting on something like this to open in Williston, because right now the card industry is at a high.” Fleming told the Williston Herald.

MVP Sport Break is hosting a card and memorabilia show on April 24, inviting collectors from all over the area to come buy, sell and trade. MVP Sport Break is located at 2017 2nd Ave West in Williston. Visit them online at mvpsportbreak.com to learn more.

F & F Sprinklers and Spas of Williston recently came under new ownership, and has expanded the longtime business to include Club Carts, a line of golf carts designed for everyday use. Owners Andrew and Melissa Fisketjon took over in August, utilizing STAR Fund incentives to help grow F & F into the area’s premier Club Cart dealer. More than just a cart for the gold course, Andrew said the carts have grown in popularity to be used on the farm, in the garden and just a vehicle for cruising around town.

“It’s simple family fun, at the very least,” he said. “For those families that maybe don’t have the money to get in to a higher-end side-by-side, they can get into a golf cart. It’s still safe, and it’s affordable.”

Club Carts are street legal and come in both electric and gas models. The gas models have the typical revving engine and “put-put” you would expect from a gas motor, while the electric models are almost whisper quiet. The main difference, Fisketjon said, being one’s preference for being able to constantly be on the go with a gas motor or not minding taking some time to relax while the electric battery charges.

Fisketjon added that F & F is a full service Club Car dealer, able to provide maintenance and service warranties for their customers.

F & F Sprinklers and Spas is located at 312 14th street west. Visit them online at www.ffsprinkler.com or www.facebook.com/ffsprinkler to learn more about Club Cars and all the other products they carry.

Over the next few weeks, the Williston Herald will be profiling many new businesses that have opened their doors in Williston.

Armstrong signs on to sentencing reform
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The number of bipartisan issues in the United State’s seems to be shrinking all the time, but North Dakota’s lone member of the House of Representatives has found one.

Last week, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, R-New York, spoke on a live stream about their efforts on criminal justice reform, specifically the EQUAL Act, which would eliminate the 18:1 penalty difference between crack and powder cocaine in federal sentencing guidelines.

The goal is to change the disparity in sentencing because there is no pharmacological difference between the two forms of the drug, Jeffries said during the event.

“I’ve just seen countless lives ruined without a meaningful investment in helping individuals,” Jeffries said of his home district, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

Armstrong said he agreed there was no reason for the difference and the change made a lot of sense.

“We’re not talking about not holding people accountable for their actions,” he said.

The original disparity was even greater, and the introduction of Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act is the next step toward closing the gap.

Armstrong was one of two Republicans in the House to sign on as co-sponsors. His support comes from his time as a defense attorney, including work in federal courts, as well as from conversations with law enforcement officials.

North Dakota has been a leader in criminal justice reform and prosecutors and other local law enforcement have been at the forefront, Armstrong said. The idea is to help people who are dealing with addiction and selling drugs to support their own habit.

“If you deal with all these issues, you can break the cycle,” Armstrong told the Williston Herald.

The change is necessary even as many states have made criminal justice and sentencing reforms of their own. That’s because while most criminal justice happens on the state level, many use federal sentencing guidelines as a basis.

The sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s and 1990s, and Armstrong things have changed enough since then that there will be support for eliminating the disparity.

“We’ve come a long way since then in recognizing that a 30 year sentence for a nonviolent offense doesn’t really make us any safer,” he said.

North Dakota top oil and gas regulator is watching, planning comments for Interior's review of federal oil and gas leases
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No one knows for sure how long oil and gas leases on federal lands will be on hold, but the hearings to begin the Biden administration’s study of them are set to begin March 25 with public forums to gather comments.

A lot of eyeballs in North Dakota will be watching these hearings, including North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator Lynn Helms. In the state’s most recent monthly oil production report, Helms indicated he will watch the proceedings but doesn’t expect to offer comments during the forum itself.

That’s due more to timing than anything else. The March meeting of the North Dakota Industrial Commission isn’t until five days later.

“I haven’t been cleared by the policy people to comment at the public forum,” Helms said. “But I am going to recommend to the Industrial Commission members that we offer them after that. So after the public comment period opens, I really anticipate we will be commenting.”

Helms indicated Division of Oil and Gas personnel have already begun evaluating which lands could be affected and in what way by the Biden administration’s impending analysis.

“I think we are really going to focus on what we call split estates in North Dakota,” Helms said. “Most of the federal public lands in North Dakota are split estates, where a tract as small as 10 acres of federal lands can prevent the drilling or development of 5 to 600 acres of private or state land by just blocking the ability to lease and permit on those lands.”

Among such tracts is one by Trenton, which has 10 acres of federal minerals, and 580 acres north and south of that belonging to five individuals.

The properties were to have been nominated for lease during the March sale, and would have supported between three and 45 wells. But now the whole thing is on hold.

“They are actually subjecting themselves to private litigation by blocking the leasing of those small tracts and preventing the drilling of those state and private minerals,” Helms said. “So we have a unique and interesting story to tell, along with the cumulative effects (on the state’s oil and gas production.)”

Financially the cumulative effects are potentially significant, Helms said, though perhaps not as sweeping as had initially been thought.

“It’s less than expected because it was retracted from tribal and allotted lands, anything held in trust,” Helms said. “That is, dominantly, the best geography in North Dakota. So that really mitigated the impact on the state.”

Helms said his preliminary analysis suggests it could affect 150 new wells in the upcoming biennium, and would accelerate from there if the suspension becomes a long-term thing.

“Right now, there’s a significant slowdown, in that no one in the district or local offices can issue permits,” Helms said. “They all have to go to Washington D.C. But it’s still possible to get one. So it’s not as impactful as the initial letter would have implied, since it doesn’t apply to trust lands and there isn’t an absolute moratorium on permitting. It’s just a slowdown.”

Hearing details

The Department of the Interior’s public hearing on the federal oil and gas program was ordered by President Joe Biden in January. The forum will be from 1 to 4:30 p.m. March 25 in a live Zoom Webinar.

Register online at tinyurl.com/3fdpe5t5. Or watch the livestream at https://www.doi.gov/events.

Information gathered during the forum will be part of an interim report, which will include the administration’s recommendations to “improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable energy future,” according to a media release from Department of the Interior.

The hearing will not be the only opportunity to submit comments. Comments may also be submitted via email to energyreview@ios.doi.gov.

“The federal oil and gas program is not serving the American public well. It’s time to take a close look at how to best manage our nation’s natural resources with current and future generations in mind,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary — Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis said. “This forum will help inform the Department’s near-term actions to restore balance on America’s lands and waters and to put our public lands’ energy programs on a more sound and sustainable conservation, fiscal and climate footing.”

The program will include remarks from recently appointed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, as well as presentations from the Bureau of Ocean and Energy management and Bureau of Land Management, as well as presentations and Q&A from invited individuals who represent environmental justice and frontline communities, academia, oil and gas industry trade associations, indigenous organizations, conservation organizations, and labor groups.

A list of participants will be updated at the Interior’s website as they become available.

Williston man dies at Montana ski resort
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A 63-year-old Williston man died last week after a fall at Bridger Bowl ski area in Bozeman, Montana.

Robert “Bob” Erickson fell while skiing Tuesday, March 16, according to a news release from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office in Montana.

“He was transported to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital where he died of his injuries,” a news release about the fall reads. “The cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma of the neck.”

Erickson, a 1976 graduate of Williston High School, founded Basin Concrete in the early 1980s. The company transitioned to trucking and equipment rental in the mid 2000s.

A celebration of Erickson’s life was scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 23, at Bakken Elementary gymnasium. It will also be livestreamed on the Fulkerson Stevenson Funeral Home Facebook page.

COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
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Doses administered statewide: 340,072

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 204,145

Statewide rate for one dose: 35.2%

Statewide rate for two doses: 21.1%

Williams County rate for one dose: 20.1%

Williams County rate for two doses: 11.9%

Divide County rate for one dose: 43.8%

Divide County rate for two doses: 24.9%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 22.1%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 11.8%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 37.7%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 20.8%