Dakota Access Pipeline brings high stakes, high profile to North Dakota

CANNON BALL, N.D. -- Controversy over what would be the Bakken's largest oil pipeline has put North Dakota in the international spotlight. Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has prompted the largest gathering of Native Americans in decades ...


CANNON BALL, N.D. - Controversy over what would be the Bakken's largest oil pipeline has put North Dakota in the international spotlight.

Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has prompted the largest gathering of Native Americans in decades while also attracting attention from celebrities, presidential candidates and the United Nations.

The fight over the $3.78 billion pipeline has high stakes for both sides, as oil industry leaders look forward to a direct pipeline route for North Dakota oil to access refineries in the Gulf Coast.

The 1,172-mile pipeline would begin near Stanley and cross through four states to transport 450,000 barrels of oil per day to a hub in Patoka, Ill. Another pipeline, the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, which is being converted from a natural gas pipeline, will carry oil from Patoka to the Sunoco Logistics terminal in Nederland, Texas. Dakota Access can be expanded to accommodate 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude each day.

Proponents say the project will reduce North Dakota's reliance on rail for transporting oil and make Bakken crude more competitive by reducing shipping costs.


But tribal leaders and other opponents say the pipeline company and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly consult the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe about the route, which crosses the Missouri River less than a mile north of the reservation. The tribe has sued the Corps and argues the pipeline threatens sacred sites and would endanger the water supply.

What companies are involved in the pipeline?

Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas is the lead company building the project with Sunoco Logistics and Phillips 66 as partners. Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge Energy Partners announced in August plans to acquire a minority stake in the pipeline.

What benefits does the pipeline bring to North Dakota?

The project is providing an estimated 4,000 jobs in North Dakota during construction and will create about a dozen permanent jobs in the state, according to Dakota Access. The pipeline is estimated to generate $32.9 million in state sales tax during construction and $13.1 million in North Dakota property tax revenue during the first year the pipeline is in service, the company says, citing a fiscal impact study.

How did Dakota Access select the route?

According to Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado, the pipeline route was selected after "extensive" civil, environmental and archaeological surveys to mitigate the pipeline's impact on the area and to determine the safest route for construction and operation of the pipeline.

An earlier route that Dakota Access considered but eliminated would have crossed the Missouri River 10 miles north of Bismarck instead of the current route that crosses Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, north of Cannon Ball. The company has not commented publicly on why it preferred the current route, and the Bismarck route was not discussed during the Public Service Commission review process.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked at the crossing north of Bismarck in its environmental assessment and concluded it was not a "viable alternative" for many reasons, including its proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells. The Bismarck route also would have been 11 miles longer and required crossing more waterbodies and wetlands as well as affecting additional acres of land, the Corps said. In addition, that route was constrained by the Public Service Commission's rule requiring a 500-foot buffer between pipelines and homes. The Bismarck route also would have crossed an area considered by federal pipeline regulators as a "high consequence area," which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill.

Is the Dakota Access Pipeline route on private or public land?

Most of the pipeline route is on private land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it has jurisdiction over about 3 percent of the pipeline route, including 0.21 miles at the Lake Oahe crossing. The route does not cross Native American reservations, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the pipeline will cross treaty lands.

Will the Dakota Access pipeline affect Native American burial sites or other cultural resources?

The North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office signed off on a cultural resource survey that found no significant sites would be impacted. Much of the route, including the portion north of Standing Rock, parallels an existing natural gas pipeline built in 1982.

However, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a growing number of critics say the Dakota Access archaeological survey was flawed and argue the route will destroy sacred sites near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers.

Tribal officials say Dakota Access destroyed sacred sites on Sept. 3 when it bulldozed an area of private property the tribe identified the day before in court records as containing burial sites. The company contends that no sacred sites have been destroyed.

A team of archaeologists with the state archaeologist surveyed the area last week at the request of a joint task force led by the Morton County Sheriff's Department, said county spokeswoman Donnell Preskey. The findings are still under review by the investigative team.


Preskey said she could not comment on who participated in the survey or whether it included representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribal historic preservation officer wrote on Facebook that he learned about the survey afterward.

How will the pipeline be installed under Lake Oahe?

Dakota Access plans to use horizontal directional drilling to install the 30-inch welded steel pipeline 90 to 115 feet beneath the lakebed of Lake Oahe. The pipeline will have block valves at each side of the crossing and the pipeline will be remotely monitored around the clock from a control center in Texas. The pipeline will also be subject to inspections and testing before it's put into service.

Will Dakota Access eliminate rail shipments of Bakken crude?

Not completely. Dakota Access will bring North Dakota's pipeline capacity to 1.3 million barrels per day and the state's oil production is expected to drop below 1 million barrels per day by the end of the year due to the industry slowdown. But while the pipeline is expected to reduce the reliance on crude-by-rail, some North Dakota oil will likely continue moving by train. Jeff Hume, vice chairman for growth initiatives at Continental Resources, said last week the Bakken will always have some rail transportation to reach refineries on the East and West coasts.

Where do things stand now?

A U.S. District Court judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for an injunction that would have halted pipeline construction. The tribe is now appealing that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The tribe also is seeking an emergency injunction to stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe while the appeal is pending. Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 5 on the tribe's motion. The appeals court has temporarily halted construction in that area while the matter is under review.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will not authorize pipeline construction under or near Lake Oahe on Corps land until the agency determines whether it needs to reconsider any of its previous decisions. The Corps said it will "move expeditiously to make this determination" but has not released a timeline or further details of the review process.

The CEO of Energy Transfer Partners has said the company is committed to finishing the pipeline, which is more than 60 percent complete. It is scheduled to be in service by the end of the year, but it's unclear how the delays at Lake Oahe will affect the schedule.

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