Port: Shameless lawmakers set to attack carbon pipeline over supposed foreign ownership

Rep. Jeff Magrum, whose anti-carbon pipeline bills all failed during the legislative session, now wants Summit Carbon Solutions investigated for foreign ownership.

North Dakota Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — About a decade ago, the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce ran a marketing campaign touting North Dakota as "open for business."

It was controversial. The campaign was seen as jabbing at Minnesota for being less friendly to investment and development than North Dakota is. The argument was that there were lower taxes, and less red tape, west of the Red River. Our friends east of the river didn't like that so much.

I wonder if North Dakota could make that same argument about being "open for business" today, what with people such as state Rep. Jeff Magrum in office and running a harassment campaign against investment in our state.

Magrum is an avowed enemy of a carbon pipeline project from Summit Carbon Solutions. He likes to wrap his cause in a lot of noble-sounding words about property rights, though given that he once tried to seize his own neighbor's property without paying for it, I think we can assume his motivations are more petty than principled.

Perhaps they're wrapped up in his personal vendetta against Gov. Doug Burgum, a promoter of the carbon pipeline who campaigned against his election.


Magrum spent the last legislative session trying to push through a raft of bills attacking the Summit pipeline project, and he failed. Spectacularly. He introduced more bills than any other lawmaker this session — a total of 26, with 22 failing, for a batting average of just .083.

None of his legislation related to the carbon pipeline passed, because of his legislative colleagues don't share his myopically belligerent perspective of this project.

In baseball, that sort of track record gets you sent down to the minor leagues. In politics, alas, there is less accountability.

Despite his abysmal performance in Bismarck, Magrum continues to prosecute his holy war against Summit Carbon Solutions with a wild claim that a foreign adversary, maybe owns the company. If that were true, it would mean Summit could run afoul of newly passed state laws prohibiting land ownership or development in our state by companies owned or controlled by countries considered to be foreign adversaries.

Agweek reports that Magrum brought this issue up at a recent Public Service Commission meeting in Linton and that he and some of his legislative cronies are set to hold a news conference demanding an investigation into their unsubstantiated claims on Tuesday, May 23.

Do these claims have any merit? There are two ways to look at it. One legally, and one politically.

Legally, it doesn't seem like Magrum has a case.

House Bill 1135 prohibits the purchase of agricultural land by any company in which a foreign country has a controlling interest. Senate Bill 2371, meanwhile, stops local governments from authorizing any development by a company controlled by a foreign adversary.


Per Agweek, Summit's announced investors include John Deere, Continental Resources, and Gary Tharaldson, owner of Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton, North Dakota.

I'd hardly describe John Deere, or Continental Resources, one of the biggest players in North Dakota's oil fields, as "foreign adversaries."

This isn't to say there isn't some foreign investment. "SK E&S of South Korea announced last year it acquired a 10% share of Summit," Agweek reports.

South Korea is an ally, not an adversary, and theirs is a free market economy like ours, meaning that companies based in South Korea are not extensions of the government there, unlike those based in authoritarian regimes like China.

Summit also indicated to Agweek that the company has some investments from funds that, in turn, may have investments from places like China. Even if that's true, the threshold set by the new state laws is a controlling interest. Not merely an investment.

Summit absolutely must comply with these laws, but there is no indication that they aren't. The company has said, in response to Magrum's conspiracy-mongering, that they will "continue to meet or exceed all federal, state, and local regulatory requirements, including financial requirements," as they move forward with their project.

They certainly seem confident, and why wouldn't they be? Again, the standard set by North Dakota's new laws is that a foreign country must own or control the company for the prohibitions to kick in.

But that's the legal argument. The political argument is something else entirely. The intent here probably isn't to catch Summit out of compliance with the new laws. It's more about planting a seed in the minds of North Dakotans that this project isn't a good-faith investment in infrastructure of huge value to our state's two largest industries — energy and agriculture — but some nefarious plot by foreigners.


"During the North Dakota legislative session this year, every single one of Senator Magrum’s proposals related to carbon capture projects was rejected and he is now resorting to making unfounded accusations," Summit said in a statement to Agweek.

That seems accurate. Magrum and his pals are now throwing mud, hoping to see what might stick. Given that, in this age where social media falsehoods so often dominate our discussions, it may well stick, whether true or not.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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