BISMARCK, N.D. – The developer of the Dakota Access pipeline will have to present evidence at a hearing to prove the company didn't willfully violate North Dakota rules when it failed to provide details of how it planned to avoid disturbing Native American artifacts during construction, state regulators said.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners last October diverted construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline around artifacts without running the plan by the Public Service Commission, which oversees pipelines. Commission staffers say that warrants a fine of at least $15,000, even though the artifacts weren't disturbed.
ETP maintains it didn't intentionally violate state rules and that public comments in November by Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak illustrate the minor nature of the incident. Fedorchak said she was "disappointed" with the developer's conduct but acknowledged it might have resulted from miscommunication within the company.
The three-member commission on Tuesday rejected the company's request to dismiss the complaint, saying whether there was a willful violation should be determined at a hearing. The commission's order also contends Fedorchak's comments aren't relevant.
"Commissioner Fedorchak has the ability to speak for herself, but only the Commission can speak for the Commission," the order states.
The Associated Press left a message for ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado asking for comment Friday.
An administrative law judge will oversee the hearing, but the commission will make the final decision on a fine. The hearing wasn't immediately scheduled.
The four-state, 1,200-mile pipeline would transport North Dakota oil to Illinois. Work is stalled due to a dispute over whether Energy Transfer Partners has permission to lay pipe under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota that's the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux. The Army this week began reviewing an earlier decision not to grant permission until more study is done about the tribe's fears that a pipeline leak would contaminate its water.
Protests against the pipeline have resulted in nearly 700 arrests in southern North Dakota since August. The most recent came Wednesday, when American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes and 73 others were arrested after a group of protesters set up teepees on land that authorities say is owned by the pipeline developer. Protesters said they were peacefully assembling on land they believe rightfully belongs to American Indians.
Iron Eyes was charged Friday with inciting a riot, a felony that carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison. He also faces a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass. In a statement released via a spokesman, Iron Eyes didn't dispute his involvement but said he wasn't the leader of the effort and had no authority to stop it.
Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake