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Company agrees to added safety measure for proposed pipeline under Lake Sakakawea

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One of the partners behind a proposed crude oil pipeline that would pass under Lake Sakakawea has agreed to install an additional safety measure to ease concerns about how quickly a spill could pollute the lake.

During a work session Monday, members of the state Public Service Commission signaled comfort with the $125 million Sacagawea Pipeline project but said they wanted more information about allotted lands where the pipeline would cross the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

“I think we’ll work through it,” Commissioner Brian Kalk said, adding, “I think this is a precedent-setting decision that we’ll make.”

Sacagawea Pipeline Co. applied in March for a route permit for the 70-mile pipeline, which would move 140,000 barrels of oil per day from a terminal in McKenzie County to a rail-loading facility being built in Mountrail County.

The company is a joint venture between Irving, Texas-based Paradigm Energy Partners, Phillips 66 and Grey Wolf Midstream, which is owned by the Three Affiliated Tribes and is an investor in the project.

About 7,000 feet of the pipeline would run beneath the lake at a depth of at least 100 feet below the lakebed.

Members of the public and the Friends of Lake Sakakawea organization who attended a public hearing Aug. 21 in Stanley raised concerns about how quickly spilled oil could flow from the pipeline into the lake near Reunion Bay, about 12 miles southwest of New Town.

PSC chairwoman Julie Fedorchak asked the company to consider installing an additional block valve to minimize the size of a spill. Paradigm CEO Troy Andrews agreed to the request in an affidavit filed Sept. 23, noting that while the valve “will have no effect on a worst case spill,” it will be installed as long as a landowner agrees to it – something the company’s land and right-of-way manager, Jason Stelzer, said he’s still working on.

“So that’s a good, positive step,” Fedorchak said.

Friends of Lake Sakakawea board member Bob Valeu called it “excellent” news and said he plans to suggest that the PSC put a condition on the permit to require the company to update pipeline monitoring technology every five years.

“We’ve got to come to some kind of improvement on these pipelines,” he said.

About three miles of the pipeline would cross lands allotted to Three Affiliated Tribes members. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs must sign off on those easements.

Zachary Pelham, a special assistant attorney general retained for the case, said the tribe isn’t challenging whether the PSC has jurisdiction over the allotted lands.

“It’s my position that this is not an issue,” he said.

But Kalk said he wants to make sure the PSC is on solid legal ground, and he asked fellow commissioners Fedorchak and Randy Christmann if they should seek an attorney general’s opinion. Christmann said he didn’t want to delay the project that long and suggested the panel’s questions could be answered more quickly.

Stelzer said in a phone interview that the company has consent from the tribe for crossing tribal trust lands and is still “waiting on a couple more signatures from some allottees.”

Overall, easements have been obtained from about 78 percent of landowners, and he expects it be closer to 90 percent within the next two weeks.

“We’re working very diligently with each individual landowner,” he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve the lake crossing, is expected to complete its review of the environmental assessment in mid-October. A public comment period will follow.

Once permits are received, construction is expected to take six to eight months, depending on the weather, Stelzer said.

(Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.)

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