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Pipeline fatigue hits landowners

Ranchers say they don’t have time to chase cattle loose because a pipeline crew cut the pasture fence. Nor do they have time to repair equipment damaged from crossing a sunken pipeline trench.

Those problems are giving surface owners a condition called “pipeline fatigue,” and many say they are so tired of dealing with poor reclamation and inconsiderate contractors that they’re starting to say “No” to more pipelines altogether.

That “No” doesn’t develop smart energy infrastructure and could make it hard for the oil industry to meet the new reduced gas flaring standard, said Vawnita Best, a McKenzie County rancher.

Best is organizing the Greater McKenzie County Stewardship Group that will meet at 7:30 Thursday at the Watford City Civic Center.

The idea is to give landowners more reason to say “Yes,” because their land will be as good as it was before a pipeline went through it.

“The downside of people saying ‘No,’ is that we don’t get that in the ground,” she said.

More inspections

Best said the group will work toward more stringent pipeline reclamation rules and more enforcement. She said talk by the State Agriculture Department that it will ask the Legislature for pipeline inspection staff lacks foresight.

McKenzie County is at the hub of oil drilling. Thousands of miles of pipe in the county carry crude oil, natural gas, production saltwater or potable water. She said, on a recent 12-mile drive to Keene, she counted eight open pipeline trenches.

When landowners complain about weeds, poorly compacted trenches, damaged fences and other problems, they’re told to talk to the subcontractor, she said.

“We don’t have time to manage their subcontractors,” said Best, who points out there’s a gap between what surface owners want and what energy developers want.

“We’ve to find a balance,” said Best, adding members of the oil industry have been invited to the group’s meeting because there is no format for talking outside of easement negotiations.

Ron Ness, director of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, will be among the panelists tonight.

He said landowners should feel fatigued because companies did sloppy work, especially in 2009 and 2010 when a big construction push met a wet cycle.

“They’re doing a better job now, but there are some things we still need to address,” said Ness, adding that reclamation has to be done right the first time and pipeline contractors need to make sure landowners have contact information.

He said a right-of-way taskforce finalized its work last week and has seven primary recommendations.

“We’ve got to build the infrastructure, get those trucks off the road and we’ve got to figure out how,” he said.

A mixed bag

Nathan Brenna, who farms and ranches in McKenzie County, said he has dealt with more than two dozen easements on land he owns and leases.

He’s had mixed experiences, but said the biggest problem is lack of accountability.

“Somebody else negotiates the easement. Somebody else oversees the pipeline. Somebody else puts it in the ground,” he said, and before it’s done, 10 to 20 contractors are involved.

An attorney by training, Brenna said he knows how to ask for the reclamation he wants in an easement deal, but that doesn’t mean he gets it.

“I’m still waiting on one OK to fix an easement that’s five years old. That’s more the norm than not,” he said.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or


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