North Dakota Supreme Court hears arguments on survey access in Summit case

North Dakota Supreme Court hears arguments on survey access in Summit case

The North Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a case which could undo a law almost as old as the state itself and change how pipeline and utility companies access land for infrastructure projects.

A group of North Dakota landowners is asking the court to overturn a decision by a lower court which allowed the carbon dioxide pipeline and storage company Summit Carbon Solutions to access landowners’ properties for survey work for its multistate project. The group also wants the law which was applied to grant Summit the access to be ruled unconstitutional.

Summit maintains that access to land for the type of survey work it seeks to do has long been recognized by courts as legitimate and is a necessary step in the siting process for large infrastructure projects.

Summit is seeking to build a pipeline carrying CO2 emissions from ethanol plants in five states to western North Dakota’s Oliver County for permanent underground storage. The pipeline that would pass through southeastern and south central North Dakota is opposed by some landowners and environmental groups. The state Public Service Commission denied Summit’s initial application for a route permit but has agreed to a company request for reconsideration.

Law on the books

Summit sought access to do preliminary survey work on multiple properties across its proposed pipeline route. Survey work includes a number of environmental, cultural, water and geological examinations required by the PSC for the pipeline application.

Seventeen landowners across the North Dakota part of Summit’s route refused the company access to their land. In turn, Summit filed multiple lawsuits seeking to get the court to force access. These were consolidated into the case that is now before the Supreme Court.

Landowners in the lower courts asked for restrictions to be placed on Summit. Summit maintained the requested restrictions were onerous. The lower court sided with Summit, saying the company could, but was not required to, place limits on how it conducted its surveys.

Landowner attorneys argue that this in itself violates the survey access law, as courts have historically imposed limits when it has been applied.

Summit attorney Keith Blackwell said the law allows property owners to claim relief if damage occurs as a result of “negligence, wantonness, or malice.” He added that the company has committed to cover any damages that did occur even if those damages fell outside of the law’s purview.

You can read the full article at The Bismark Tribune