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Companies fined for not giving notice of ND digs

Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Three excavation contractors were fined a total of $2,500 after pipeline companies turned them in for neglecting to provide notice of their digging projects in western North Dakota. Two were accused of causing accidents.

Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. of Casper, Wyo., reported that Summit Energy Services of Williston and Pro Pipe Corp., of Frenchtown, Mont., damaged its 8-inch crude oil pipeline on separate occasions.

A natural gas pipeline company, Aux Sable Midstream LLC, complained that S.J. Louis Construction Inc., of Rockville, Minn., dug in the vicinity of one of its pipelines without checking on its location. The pipe was not harmed.

North Dakota's Public Service Commission fined Summit Energy and Pro Pipe Corp. $1,000 each. The companies admitted the violations, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer said Monday.

S.J. Louis was fined a lesser amount, $500, because its infraction did not result in any damage, commission regulatory filings say. During a routine check, an Aux Sable worker discovered that between 12 and 18 inches of soil had been removed from above the company's pipeline.

The Summit Energy, Pro Pipe and S.J. Louis violations all happened in January, regulatory filings say.

"In the case of the pipeline companies, they're both sometimes victim and sometimes perpetrator, because they do a lot of digging," Cramer said. "When we start seeing both the perpetrator and the victim become the same person, you start seeing more cooperation."

North Dakota law requires excavators to call a state "one-call center" at least 48 hours before they begin digging, so the center has time to notify the excavator whether there are any pipelines, telephone lines or other utility facilities already buried there.

The commission may fine violators up to $5,000 for each occurrence. Commissioner Brian Kalk said the agency has fined only a handful of operators and is tracking the circumstances to ensure the punishment fits the offense.

"The pipeline companies, I think they've gone down to almost zero tolerance," Kalk said. "If they see something, they report it, which is a good thing."

S.J. Louis had been digging a trench in Ward County, near Ruthville, to install a water line. Summit Energy had been prospecting near Alexander in McKenzie County for scoria, a type of rock used for road building in western North Dakota, when the excavator struck the pipeline, causing it to leak.

The leak was not noticed for several weeks, and it is now being cleaned up, the Public Service Commission said.

Pro Pipe was installing a water line and a crude oil pipeline near Alexander when the company's excavator struck the Belle Fourche oil pipeline, PSC filings say.