North Dakota regulators poised to approve pipeline expansion

February 19, 2020 - 10:39 am

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota regulators were expected to take action Wednesday on a proposal to expand the capacity of the Dakota Access pipeline.

The three-member, all-Republican Public Utilities Commission signaled last month that it would approve a permit to expand the capacity of the pipeline, despite objections from opponents who said it would increase the probability of a disastrous oil spill.

Texas-based Energy Transfer proposed doubling the capacity of the pipeline last year to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments.

The company wants to build a $40 million pump station on a 23-acre (9-hectare) site near Linton in south-central North Dakota. The new station is necessary to increase the volume of oil the pipeline can move.

The company also plans additional pumping stations in South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Commissioners in a South Dakota county last year approved a conditional use permit needed for a station there. Permits in the other states are pending. Iowa regulators want Energy Transfer to provide expert analysis to back up the company’s claim that doubling the line’s capacity won't increase the likelihood of a spill.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile (1,886 kilometer) underground pipeline was subject to prolonged protests and hundreds of arrests during its construction in North Dakota in late 2016 and early 2017 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 insisted the pipeline would be safe, and said the expansion would be, too.

The pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois since June 2017. Since some of the land in North Dakota falls outside of the pipeline corridor, permission was needed from the commission to build the pump station.

Opponents argued the commission should have considered affects all along the line and not solely at the pump station location. If the North Dakota commission approves the permit, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe will review its legal options, including a possible appeal in state court, attorney Tim Purdon said.

Energy Transfer argued the commission could only consider a permit application for its pump site and commissioners agreed, saying the state would not impose conditions beyond those required by the federal government, which has jurisdiction on the pipeline.

The company said in court filings that its pump station would produce only "minimal adverse effects on the environment and the citizens of North Dakota."

The company has said it hoped to start construction this spring, and finish within 10 months.

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