- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A North Dakota regulator removed himself Monday from the permitting process for an oil pipeline because his mother-in-law is negotiating an easement with the project’s builder.

“I just want to be open and transparent about things,” said Randy Christmann, one of three members of the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

For nearly a year, the all-Republican, three-member panel has been reviewing Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion, 1,130-mile project - the biggest-capacity pipeline proposed to date to move crude from North Dakota’s oil patch.

Christmann said Energy Transfer Partners has acquired 95 percent of the easements needed along the route, which crosses 50 counties in the four states. The company has said it would use the eminent domain process to acquire other easements if agreements with landowners can’t be reached voluntarily.

Christmann, a rancher and former state senator from Hazen, said he learned “over the Christmas holidays” that his mother-in-law, Carol Jensen, was negotiating an easement with the company to place a portion of the pipeline on farmland she owns near Williston. Christmann said the easement is part of an alternative spur that is being considered by the company.

Christmann said he has met with PSC lawyers to discuss the conflict.

“I’m out of the case,” he said.

The PSC permits and regulates power plants, pipelines and a number of other businesses in the state. The panel has long signaled that it would approve the company’s plans in North Dakota, the pipeline’s longest leg.

Christmann said a final decision on the project could come from his fellow commissioners later this month.

PSC Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak and Commissioner Brian Kalk did not immediately return telephone calls for comment on Monday.

If approved, the Dakota Access Pipeline would move at least 450,000 barrels of North Dakota crude daily through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.

Energy Transfer Partners announced the project in 2013, just days after North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged industry and government officials to build more pipelines to keep pace with the state’s oil production. He said doing so will reduce truck and oil train traffic, curb natural gas flaring and create more markets for the state’s oil and gas.

Energy Transfer Partners has said the company is optimistic the necessary permits will be obtained in all states, with construction expected to start early this year and have it running in late 2016.

The company already has begun stockpiling steel pipe across four states in anticipation of getting the needed permits to build the pipeline.

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