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Port: Fractures in the North Dakota Republican Party loom over proposed carbon pipeline

North Dakota already has tens of thousands of miles of pipelines carrying water, oil, and gas. The state even has a carbon pipeline that's already been operating for more than 20 years. Is the fighting over the new Midwest Pipeline Solution about the pipeline itself, or the divides in the NDGOP?

Daryl Lies, center, is the president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau
Daryl Lies, center, is the president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. He's pictured here speaking during a panel discussion in 2017.
Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — According to Daryl Lies, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the CO2 pipeline proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions is the most pressing issue facing our state right now.

I know because a visibly angry Lies shouted this at me during an angry rant at the North Dakota Republican Party's state convention earlier this month.

An irate Lies told me, in an uncomfortable tirade, that I shouldn't be writing so many negative things about erstwhile Senate candidate Rick Becker and his Bastiat Caucus movement of fringe Republicans.

He said that I should instead be writing about the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline and the threat it poses to landowners.

Lies said much the same — I'm assuming in a tone of voice that was a bit less shouty — at a recent event hosted in Bismarck by his group.

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“I have had the opportunity to lead the organization for 6½ years now,” Lies said at that meeting, per the Bismarck Tribune . “In that 6½ years, I have not had another single issue that I have received more messages, more phone calls, more emails about than this issue. That’s saying a lot.”

Lies claims his organization isn't necessarily against the pipeline, and maybe that's true for the organization, but it's clear that Lies himself has a vendetta.

But why?

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What is it about the Midwest Carbon Express that makes it different from the roughly 30,000 miles of gathering and transmission lines serving the oil and gas industry already? Or the thousands of miles of pipelines that transport things, such as water, in our state?

Building pipelines isn't some new enterprise for North Dakota.

The Midwest Carbon Express isn't even the first carbon pipeline for our state.

The Dakota Gasification Company , through its subsidiary, Souris Valley Pipeline, has been delivering carbon dioxide to Canada through a 205-mile pipeline for more than 20 years.

Building a pipeline is never an easy thing. It requires negotiating easements with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of property owners, some of whom are more than happy to cut deals, and some who make outlandish or unreasonable demands, and some who just don't want a pipeline through their property at all for reasons that are unique to them.

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Add in the looming question of eminent domain —- Summit Carbon Solutions say that's a possibility they're trying to avoid — and things become all the more controversial.

But, again, it's a routine sort of controversy. Between state and federal regulators, and the courts, we have systems in place that reliably allow the construction of pipelines.

New pipelines get built all the time, and while it's an arduous process as a matter of regulation and negotiation, it's rarely the stuff of inflammatory politics. High-profile examples such as the perpetually stymied Keystone XL pipeline, or the Dakota Access line, are the exceptions to the rule.

This brings us back to Lies, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, and the consternation he's fomenting over the Midwest Carbon Express.

Why so much attention focused on this project, in particular?

I suspect it has more to do with the fractures in the North Dakota Republican Party than the particulars of the pipeline project.

Gov. Doug Burgum and his administration have been outspoken proponents of carbon capture and sequestration, not just as an avenue for keeping North Dakota's carbon-heavy industries viable amid the shifting winds of climate politics, but as a new industry for North Dakota in and of itself .

Burgum set a goal for making North Dakota a carbon-neutral place. Burgum's administration has touted billions of investments into new projects in pursuit of that goal. The governor has invested himself, politically, in this area of public policy.

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But Burgum is also the bête noire for Becker and his Bastiat Caucus movement, and Lies is a Becker Backer.

It's not hard to see a motivation there.

There is nothing wrong with landowners opposing a pipeline to be built across their property. There's nothing wrong with asking questions or holding out to get a better deal on an easement. But one has to wonder if the North Dakota Farm Bureau, under the leadership of Lies, is helping landowners in that goal, or inflaming the already fraught process of building a pipeline in pursuit of a rank political agenda.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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