Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission needs to punish the Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. for converting a gathering line without approval. The Tribune editorial board believes a hefty fine would be appropriate. The company also should be kept on a short leash.

Belle Fourche, a subsidiary of True Companies based in Wyoming, has a lousy record in North Dakota. It has had 17 oil spills in the state since 2009, according to documents filed with the PSC.

At least one of the spills was large, and recovery work continues on a 2016 spill that went into the Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River. The leak detection system on the pipeline that spilled into Ash Coulee was malfunctioning.

The same company was responsible for the 2015 oil pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River that contaminated the drinking supply of Glendive, Mont. Another subsidiary of True Companies, Black Hills Trucking, paid a $950,000 fine to North Dakota for illegally dumping oilfield waste -- a fine the company fought unsuccessfully to the state Supreme Court.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is in the process of conducting an audit of the company’s leak detection procedures. Karl Rockeman, director of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Quality, in June asked for a third-party evaluation of Belle Fourche’s pipeline leak detection system.

Rockeman made the request based on the company’s history of spills. It’s uncertain whether the federal audit will take care of Rockeman’s request.

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In the case of the gathering line conversion, a spokesman for another True subsidiary blamed confusion for the failure to get PSC approval. He said the company wants to comply with all state regulations.

Confusion isn’t a valid excuse. Confusion about the speed limit doesn’t spare you a speeding ticket when you are caught going too fast. Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said that in these situations the commission tries to bring the company into compliance. She held out the possibility of some penalty against the company.

Last week all three commissioners voted to approve permits for the company. Now, they shouldn’t let the company off the hook. North Dakota has been burned numerous times by the company’s spills and the slow process of recovery. It’s time the state burned the company in its pocketbook and warned them that future sanctions will be more severe.

It’s also troubling to the Tribune that Belle Fourche has gotten waivers from homeowners so it can bypass a requirement that pipelines be placed farther than 500 feet from a home. The company also is seeking waivers from homeowners for another pipeline it wants to build. It would seem wise to comply with the regulation.

These regulations aren’t new for companies involved in pipelines and other projects related to the oil patch. If a company is new to North Dakota, it’s the responsibility of the company to learn about the state’s regulations.

There are times when North Dakota needs to be tough about enforcement.

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