Commissioner Fedorchak, pump the brakes

In North Dakota we harbor a skepticism of government regulation that is almost cultural in its pervasiveness.

Don’t get me wrong, we support the rule of law. Anarchy is not the North Dakota way. But we are, as a state, deeply suspicious of regulatory overreach.

Which is why Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak needs to pump the brakes.

Fedorchak is a fine public servant, with a bright future in Republican politics, but of late she’s been overstepping the boundaries of her office.

Case in point: in a recent interview with Prairie Public, Commissioner Fedorchak editorialized about the need for ONEOK’s proposed $1.4 billion Elk Creek pipeline. If completed it would carry natural gas liquids from our region down south to market.

Fedorchak is worried that the pipeline may take too many of those liquids from our area.

“I appreciate the commitment, and I know it’s necessary to find an off-ramp for these products,” she said. “But once the infrastructure is in place, I fear there is a point of no return, where the product is all going to be gone, and we won’t have the opportunity to develop the industry in this state.”

All due respect to the commissioner, but micromanaging the petroleum markets is not really her job. In fact, while this pipeline project would accept natural gas liquids produced in North Dakota, it will not be built in our state.

Fedorchak may have her private opinions on this matter, but it’s inappropriate to express them in her official capacity as a member of the PSC.

The commissioner also shouldn’t urge companies to undergo regulatory scrutiny they’re not legally obligated to.

Back in December, during a meeting before the PSC, Fedorchak urged Meridian Energy Group (the builders of the Davis Refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park) to subject themselves to the PSC’s siting process despite the facility not meeting the 55,000 barrels-per-day threshold for such scrutiny.

Fedorchak argues that Meridian plans to hit that threshold during expansions to the plan. Meridian says they’ll come to the PSC when they need a permit to expand.

Meridian has the right of this. They’re following the law as it is currently written.

If Fedorchak sees a need to change that law I’m all ears. She’s a competent and insightful public servant, and her arguments should be heard. But building something like a refinery is difficult enough, particularly in this polarized political era, without state regulators creating an inaccurate public perception that Meridian is somehow skirting the law.

Again, Fedorchak is a very good public servant, but I think she’s falling victim to the sort of mission creep which is all too common among regulators.