BISMARCK — The North Dakota Public Service Commission unanimously approved on Wednesday, Feb. 19, a siting permit for a pump station that will facilitate the expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners will now look to build a $40 million pump station about five miles from Linton in Emmons County that would make it possible to increase the capacity of the pipeline from 570,000 to 1.1 million barrels of oil (23.9 million to 46.2 million gallons) per day. The company has said it will aim to begin construction on the pump station this spring and finish about 10 months later.
Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus said the board's review of the application was "exhaustive," and in the end, the application met state and federal guidelines. He also said the increased flow of the pipeline would take trucks off the road and make western North Dakota safer.
"There is no such thing as a perfect pipeline," Kroshus said. "That's the reality, but it is the safest means of transporting crude oil, and crude oil is something that fuels our economy and fuels our nation."
The company still needs permission from regulators in Iowa and Illinois to build or enhance pump stations before it can expand the pipeline's capacity. A South Dakota county commission approved a conditional use permit for a pump station in October. A spokeswoman for Energy Transfer said the company is pleased with the outcome of Wednesday's vote.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe intervened in the case last year and wanted the commission to ask the company to hand over documents relating to the risk of an oil spill. At its Wednesday meeting, the commission denied two motions filed by the tribe that asserted the commission had the authority to request additional documentation about potential risks, and that if it decided not to act, the tribe should have been allowed to subpoena the information from the company.
The tribe will now consider its legal options, which may include an appeal to the state trial court in Bismarck, said Tim Purdon, a lawyer for the tribe. In a statement Wednesday, the tribe said the commission failed to do its job.
“The PSC is required to consider what the doubling of the flow of oil in an existing pipeline would have on North Dakota family farms and ranches, and North Dakota citizens’ health and safety. Unfortunately, today’s decision demonstrates little or no consideration of these impacts," Purdon wrote in the statement.
The All-Republican board previously indicated at a January meeting that they had enough information from the Texas-based company to make a decision. Commission attorney Zachary Pelham noted then that requiring the company to adhere to measures beyond federal regulations could also prompt a legal challenge from the company.
The company butted heads with the tribe over the proposed expansion at a 15-hour November hearing in Linton. The tribe's witnesses said adding capacity to the pipeline could increase the risk and severity of potential leaks. The company maintained that expansion would help meet consumer demand for North Dakota crude oil without posing any greater risk to the environment or people living along the pipeline.
The original $3.8 billion pipeline project, which crosses under the Missouri River near the tribe's reservation, prompted protests from tribal members and climate activists in 2016 and 2017. The 1,172-mile underground pipeline transports crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to central Illinois, from which it is shipped to Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries.
Under North Dakota law, the board could consider the welfare and best interest of North Dakotans and the environmental impact to the proposed 21-acre site of the pump station. Commissioners could also look at the safety and environmental implications of nearly doubling the pipeline's capacity, but the process was not about "re-litigating" the original construction of the pipeline, Kroshus previously told Forum News Service.
Kroshus said he's glad the commission got to hear from both the company and the tribe. He also mentioned that the case likely would not have generated a lot public interest had it been "anything but Dakota Access."
Commissioners Randy Christmann and Julie Fedorchak said that the expansion of the pipeline will allow for the safer and more efficient transportation of oil. Fedorchak also thanked the tribe for participating in the process and making their concerns known.
North Dakota is the nation's second-leading oil producer behind Texas with nearly 1.5 million barrels per day.