North Dakota board begins marathon hearing on proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline

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A proposed pump station about 5 miles west of Linton would make it possible for pipeline operator Energy Transfer to increase the capacity of the pipeline from 570,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels (23,940,000 million gallons to 46,200,000 million gallons) per day. The three-member regulatory board is charged with deciding the fate of the project.

Administrative Law Judge Timothy Dawson, who is overseeing the hearing, said the commission may go as late as 11 p.m. in hearing testimony.

Charles Frey, the vice president of liquids engineering for Dakota Access LLC, said during testimony the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline would not increase the risk of oil spills. Increased flow rate and velocity are not related to the probability of a leak, he said.

The tribe’s attorney, Tim Purdon, also pressed Frey on the possibility of a “surge,” a sudden change in pressure in a pipeline that, if severe enough, could cause it to burst. Surges could result from the inadvertently closing of a valve or the starting up or shutting down of a pump. Frey characterized these occurrences as very infrequent.

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The company has not filed a surge analysis with the Public Service Commission, but one has been filed confidentially in Illinois. The tribe argues a surge could be more likely if the pipeline’s capacity is expanded and a resulting burst could be even more devastating given the higher volume of oil.

The tribe, which intervened in August, wants the state board to deny the company’s request and worries that adding capacity to the pipeline would increase the risk and severity of potential leaks. Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said he was glad the tribe’s voice would be heard and he’s confident the tribe will prevail in preventing expansion.

Attorney Tim Purdon (left) and Standing Rock Tribal Chariman Mike Faith speak before a hearing in Linton, N.D. on Nov. 13, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Attorney Tim Purdon (left) and Standing Rock Tribal Chariman Mike Faith speak before a hearing in Linton, N.D. on Nov. 13, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The company says the added volume would help meet consumer demand for North Dakota oil and would not pose any greater risk to the environment or people living along the pipeline.

The original construction of the pipeline, which crosses under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, prompted protests from tribal members and climate activists in 2016 and 2017.

Frey said the company has not yet hired a contractor for the pump station project, though it plans to use union labor. The company hopes to start construction in spring of next year and complete the project by the end of the year, Frey said.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak set the scene in her opening statement, saying the commission must determine where the line lies between taking advantage of the state’s massive oil reserves and causing minimal damage to the environment and North Dakotans.

“We’re here for one reason and that reason is that North Dakota has been extremely blessed. We have incredible resources and lots of them,” Fedorchak said. “So, how do we go about developing those resources in a way that balances the value of those resources with also protecting the environment and the people?”

The company plans to call four witnesses Wednesday, including Charles Frey, vice president of liquids engineering for Dakota Access LLC; Todd Stamm, vice president of pipeline operations for Dakota Access LLC; Jeff Makholm, an economic consultant and Dennis Woods, an environmental consultant.

Makholm went first and spoke about how expansion was necessary to meet the consumer demand for North Dakota crude oil. He said the pipeline would put money in the pockets of landowners in the area due to cheaper shipping prices for oil.

Tim Purdon, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, asks economic consultant Jeff Makholm questions about the need for expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline at a hearing in Linton, N.D. on Nov. 13, 2019. Makholm is a witness for pipeline operator Energy Transfer. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Tim Purdon, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, asks economic consultant Jeff Makholm questions about the need for expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline at a hearing in Linton, N.D. on Nov. 13, 2019. Makholm is a witness for pipeline operator Energy Transfer. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The tribe will call three witnesses of their own, including Donald Holmstrom, who directed a regional office for a government board that investigates chemical safety; Richard Kuprewicz, the president of pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc and Jon Eagle Sr., the tribe’s historic preservation officer.

After the public testimony concludes, the commission will hold work sessions to decide whether to grant permission to build the pump station. The commission’s determination will be based on whether the proposal meets state legal requirements, Kroshus said.

Considerations will include the welfare and best interest of North Dakotans and the environmental impact to the proposed 21-acre site of the pump station. The commission may also look at the safety and environmental implications of nearly doubling the pipeline’s capacity, but the process is not about “re-litigating” the original construction of the pipeline, Kroshus said.

“Our job is to make sure (the company) meets requirements outlined in the law, not to rewrite laws,” Kroshus said before the hearing. “The worst thing a regulatory body can do is move the goalposts and create uncertainty.”

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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