Bill would impose harsher punishment on tampering with infrastructure like pipelines

BISMARCK, N.D. - Those who tamper with or damage critical infrastructure could be in for heavier punishment. A bill going through the legislature expands the language in the century code, seeking to stop those who cause harm to things like pipelines, oil and gas sites and more.

The senate bill comes from an incident in 2016 when an oil pipeline was tampered with in the northeast corner of the state. The bill also adds in a section making groups with ties to those found guilty of the offense, liable as well.

Critical infrastructure across the state. Pipelines, railroad tracks oil and gas sites and more. Sponsors of Senate Bill 2044 are hoping to impose harsher penalties on those who try to tamper or destroy those facilities.

“We've seen a high level of activism across the nation and in North Dakota and what this bill does is it addresses the folks who are actually committing the crime,” co-sponsor Sen. Jessica Unruh said.

The reason for the bill? An incident in Pembina county in 2016, when activist Michael Foster turned the shut off valve on a pipeline. But some are concerned that the language of the bill isn't clear enough for those who accidently cut a line.

“It's not spelled out clearly that it's not going to be prosecuted for an individual that makes that mistake,” Sen. John Grabinger said.

Others against the bill say it could impose on free speech.

“I think the way it's written it's too vague and it goes to a broad spectrum and I think that's a mistake,” Grabinger said.

Unruh says they added amendments to the bill to make sure they protect first amendment rights. The bill also has a section making groups associated with those convicted liable.

“It will punish the people who have potentially hired somebody to damage critical infrastructure and it would punish them as well,” Unruh said.

Those groups could be fined up to $100,000 for their involvement.

So far, the bill has passed through the Senate, and is waiting on a recommendation vote in the House Energy and Natural Resource Committee.