By BLAKE NICHOLSON
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A dispute over whether the Texas-based developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline improperly reported the discovery of American Indian artifacts in North Dakota will linger into the fall, as the company continues fighting a relatively minor violation and small fine.
Energy Transfer Partners has been fighting over the matter since November, when state regulators filed a complaint and proposed a $15,000 fine. That amount pales in comparison with the $3.8 billion cost of the pipeline, which began moving oil last month.
The complaint came after the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which oversees pipelines, was notified by a third-party inspector that pipeline crews last October had diverted the pipeline’s route around American Indian artifacts. The company had obtained the approval of the State Historic Preservation Office but not of the commission.
The artifacts weren’t disturbed and ETP maintains it hadn’t intentionally done anything wrong. A public hearing on the issue was scheduled for Aug. 16, but the company requested that written arguments be made first. The PSC has agreed to a briefing schedule and set a final deadline of Sept. 22. The hearing will be rescheduled after that, Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said.
ETP didn’t comment on the reason for its request.
The pipeline began moving North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois on June 1, after an approval from the Trump administration ended months of delays caused in part by protests in North Dakota. Those protests resulted in 761 arrests between August and February.
American Indian tribes and supporters say they fear the project will harm the environment; ETP says the pipeline is safe.
The commission also is looking into whether the company removed too many trees while laying pipe in the state. An Aug. 17 public hearing is still scheduled. There is not yet a formal complaint in that matter, and “briefs on that at this point would be premature,” Fedorchak said.
The company could face fines of up to $200,000 if it is found to have violated state rules in either case, although it could contest any fines in state district court.