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Coronavirus outbreak
Despite Johnson & Johnson pause, vaccine doses still available locally
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A recommended pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine caused some local clinics to be cancelled, but there are doses of the other vaccines available.

The Upper Missouri District Health Unit had to cancel a few clinics for the week of April 12-18, Daphne Clark, public information officer for the UMDHU, told the Williston Herald.

There are still clinics for the Moderna vaccine across the four counties the health unit covers. More doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are expected next week, as well, Clark said.

“We’ve had a pretty ample supply of Moderna,” Clark said.

The state hasn’t sent much of the Pfizer vaccine to smaller locations because of how difficult the handling can be. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a freezer.

The state plans to let local public health units order the vaccine they need starting next week, Clark said. The local district plans to order the Pfizer vaccine because it’s approved for people 16 and older, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for people 18 and older.

Gabe Gratz with G&G Pharmacy said the pharmacy didn’t have any Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hand.

“We went through all of our shipment last week,” he said.

He had already been warned that there might be a reduction in the amount of Johnson & Johnson vaccine available because of supply chain problems.

For now, G&G will offer the Moderna vaccine for customers instead. The state originally hoped to have pharmacies offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it requires only a single shot. The Moderna vaccine requires two shots 28 days apart to be fully effective.

CHI St. Alexius in Williston only offers the Moderna vaccine and so its supply hasn’t been affected by the pause, Dubi Cummings, director of marketing and foundation.

The CDC and FDA issued a statement Tuesday, April 13, recommending a “pause” in the use of the vaccine, citing six cases of rare, very serious blod cots in women.

The six incidents come out of the 6.8 million doses administered as of mid April. One woman died and another is still in the hospital.

All the cases happened in women between 18 and 48, and one of the reasons for the pause was to make people aware of the proper treatment for the rare clots.

“Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered,” a joint statement from the FDA and CDC reads. “Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”

The CDC called a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday, April 14, to look into the concerns and make a recommendation about how to proceed. The FDA will review those findings.

Capt. Steven Gutknecht of Williston PD earns Lone Eagle award from ND Peace Officers Association

A Williston police officer was given the North Dakota Peace Officers Association’s highest award, recognizing him for his years of service to the state.

Capt. Steven Gutknecht of the Williston police has been an officer for 28 years, serving throughout the state in multiple capacities during those years. At the Tuesday, April 13 meeting of the Williston City Commission, Gutknecht was recognized by Chief David Peterson as he presented Gutknecht with the Lone Eagle award.

The award is presented a North Dakota officer, who in the eyes of their comrades, have contributed guidance, inspiration, and support throughout their career as a law enforcement official in the State of North Dakota.

“It’s an honor to have Captain Gutknecht as one of our own,” Police, Fire and Ambulance Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk said. “It is with great pride and respect that we present this award. We thank you, you’ve earned it. You’ve provided great wealth to our community.”

Gutknecht was nominated for the award by Dallas Carlson, U.S. Marshall for the State of North Dakota, former colleague and long-time friend. From there, the final vote came from the board members of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association.

“I’m very honored,” Gutknecht said of the decision. “I’ve seen a lot of great officers get it over the years, so it’s a big honor just to be included in that group, because it’s not a very large percentage of officers that have gotten it.”

Gutknecht started his career as a drug enforcement officer, coming to Williston in 1996 and joining the Northwest Narcotics Task Force, which he eventually came to direct. Gutknecht also spent time as an agent for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, before eventually landing back in Williston to oversee the investigations division at the police department.

“Captain Gutknecht has helped to mentor many officers in his 28 years,” Chief Peterson said. “This award to me is extremely fitting. When it talks to integrity and ethics and that side of the award, Captain Gutknecht is the example of an officer when it comes to ethical decisions and integrity. I know they had a lot of great people that were nominated for this award, but I know without even seeing that they made the right choice.”

Oil & Gas
Enerplus continues building out a Bakken stronghold with Hess acquisition
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Calgary-based Enerplus is expanding its already sizable footprint in the Bakken with a $312 million cash acquisition from Hess Bakken.

Hess is selling Enerplus the Little Knife and Murphy Creek acreage in Dunn County, a net 78,700 acres, which is in the southernmost part of Hess’s Bakken position and not slated for drilling until 2026.

Hess hasn’t connected these assets to midstream infrastructure yet. The assets are producing around 4,500 barrels of oil per day.

“The Bakken is a core asset in our company’s portfolio,” CEO John Hess said. “Sale of the Little Knife and Murphy Creek acreage – the majority of which we were not planning to drill before 2026 – brings material value forward and further strengthens our cash and liquidity position.”

This is the second purchase of Bakken assets by Enerplus this year. The company in March closed on 151,000 net acres from Bruin E & P for $465 million in cash, which had just five months before emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Of that 151,000 acres, 30,000 were in the Fort Berthold area and 67,000 acres were in Williams County. The Fort Berthold acreage was contiguous to acreage Enerplus already owned.

Bruin had completed a voluntary Chapter 11 filing just five months before the sale.

The Bruins acquisition gave Enerplus 149 new drilling targets, and the Hess acquisition gives them 120.

The Hess assets also happen to have acreage contiguous to assets Enerplus already owns.

“These assets are a strong strategic and operational fit for Enerplus, further extending our high-return Bakken drilling inventory,” said Ian C. Dundas, President and CEO of Enerplus. “The addition of this tier one resource into our development plan is expected to generate strong financial returns and enhance our free cash flow growth. In connection with the acquisition, we have highlighted a five-year outlook with projected cumulative free cash flow of between $1.2 to $1.8 billion between 2021 and 2025, assuming US$50 to $55 per barrel WTI.”

The purchase of Hess assets is set to close May 2021, subject to applicable approvals and closing conditions.

Enerplus has recently revised its capital spending guidance upwards, bumping it from $335 — $385 million to $360 — $400 million and is predicting free cashflow between $1.2 to $1.8 billion from 2021 to 2025 at WTI $50 to $55 per barrel.

Enerplus is an independent North American oil. and gas exploration and production company

State asks Supreme Court to reconsider overturned sexual assault conviction
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The North Dakota Attorney General has taken the unusual step of asking the state Supreme Court to rehear a case it recently sent back for a new trial.

In a motion filed last week, Britta Demello Rice and Kelly Dillon asked the North Dakota Supreme Court to rehear the Everest Moore case. The court overturned Moore’s convictions on eight class A felony counts of gross sexual imposition, ruling his right to a public trial had been violated when a judge closed the courtroom for jury selection and discussions on jury instructions.

Moore was charged in 2019 with molesting eight students at St. Joseph Catholic School, where he worked.

In a joint decision issued in March, a split court overturned Moore’s eight convictions and the conviction of Juan Martinez on a class AA felony charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child, saying both men had their rights violated when the courtroom was improperly closed during their trial.

The courtroom was closed for the testimony of two witnesses during Martinez’s trial.

In Moore’s case, four justices agreed that Moore’s rights were violated.

“The transcript suggests the district court excluded the public to protect the privacy of potential jurors, but the topics discussed were typical of jury selection and not limited to the type routinely discussed in chambers,” the justices wrote. “The court did not inform Moore that he had a right to a public trial. The court did not inquire of Moore to elicit an express waiver of a known right. Instead, the court implied that the defendant had no right to have the proceedings held in front of the public. The record discloses only that the court closed the proceeding apparently as an exercise of discretion rather than as a part of a determination in which Moore had any say in the matter. We conclude this record does not establish a voluntary and intentional relinquishment of Moore’s right to a public trial.”

Demello Rice and Dillon argued that the court misapplied the law in Moore’s case because neither side objected to the closure. In fact, they argued, Moore’s attorneys encouraged the closure, so Moore shouldn’t be allowed to claim that was an error.

In addition, they argued, the court should have looked at the parts of the trial that were open to the public, which they argued were more important to the verdict.

“This Court gave no second thought to the underlying record which reflected eight children testifying in open court, five additional State witnesses testifying in open court, and multiple defense witnesses testifying in open court,” the motion for reconsideration reads. “These are the portions of a criminal trial that, if closed, could ‘infect the entire trial process and necessarily render the trial fundamentally unfair’ requiring automatic reversal.”

They also argued that Waller v. Georgia, the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision used by the justices to support their ruling, says the remedy should be appropriate to the violation.

“Reversing a conviction for a new trial is not the appropriate remedy,” they wrote. “The state respectfully requests that the judgment of the lower court be affirmed.”

Moore’s attorneys had not filed a response as of Tuesday, April 13.

Sex crime charges dismissed on day trial was to start
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Prosecutors dismissed multiple felony sex crime charges against a man Tuesday, April 13, the day his trial was set to begin.

Matthew Terry was facing multiple felony charges, including a class AA count of gross sexual imposition and five class C counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor. They were dropped because of questions about evidence that came up during trial preparation, Jaakan Williams, state’s attorney for Williams County, told the Williston Herald.

“In the final hours of preparation for the trial, an important piece of evidence was determined (not to be credible),” Williams said.

Because of that, Williams said the office felt it had an ethical obligation to drop the charges.

“It was a tough decision to make,” Williams said, because of the preparation that had been done and the fact witnesses had been ready to testify.

Terry was charged in July 2020 with tampering with witnesses after being accused of trying to get his accuser to recant. That case is set for trial in June and is still scheduled.

“We told Judge (Benjamen) Johnson today that the witness tampering charge is still moving forward,” Williams said.