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

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.

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. 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.

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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 Sunoco Logistics; 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.

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.”

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