BISMARCK, N.D. -- A legal battle is headed to North Dakota's Supreme Court over access to thousands of documents related to the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the company that oversaw security during construction.
Pipeline developer Energy Transfer and its subsidiary Dakota Access LLC last year sued the state board that regulates private investigators and security firms, seeking the return of some 16,000 documents. The Houston-based company argues the records are confidential and could present a security risk if released publicly.
Arguments in the case likely will be held in January or February, state Supreme Court clerk Petra Hulm said Wednesday.
The security company, North Carolina-based TigerSwan, gave the documents to the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board during a two-year-long fight over whether the company operated illegally without a license in North Dakota while the pipeline was under construction in 2016 and 2017.
TigerSwan settled its case with the state last year for $175,000 but denied any wrongdoing.
Energy Transfer wants the documents back and has sued TigerSwan for breach of contract.
Separately, litigation has arisen over release of the documents to the media.
First Look Institute Inc., the nonprofit publisher of The Intercept, sued North Dakota last year, seeking to obtain the documents, under the state’s open records law.
The North Dakota attorney general’s office is representing the board in that case. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he could not comment on the case due to the ongoing litigation.
The Intercept, which is an online news organization, is currently soliciting support from North Dakota media organizations, asking them to file an “amicus” or friend-of-the-court brief.
Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney and media lobbyist, said groups representing North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters, would likely sign on to the lawsuit.
McDonald doesn't expect all documents in the case to be released, since state law allows such things as financial records and other proprietary information to be shielded from the public.
The $3.8 billion pipeline was subject to prolonged protests and hundreds of arrests during its construction in North Dakota because it crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe draws its water from the river and fears pollution. Energy Transfer insists the pipeline is safe.