LINTON -- State regulators who oversaw a marathon hearing Wednesday that extended into Thursday's early morning hours won't be making a decision on the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the imminent future.
There’s more paperwork to be filed and more meetings expected before the Public Service Commission makes a permitting decision.
Even if the PSC grants updated permits for the project, pipeline developer Energy Transfer still needs to secure approvals from regulators in other states before it can pump up to 1.1 million barrels of oil through the pipeline each day, nearly doubling the existing capacity.
If North Dakota regulators green-light the expansion, Energy Transfer will convert 21 acres of an Emmons County field into a pump station off N.D. Highway 13 west of Linton.
Rows of corn cover some of the site today, and power lines overhead follow the line’s general route. A small segment of the pipeline juts up above the ground before snaking back down to cross under the highway.
The proposed facility would include a building with new pumps and motors to add horsepower along the line so that the oil inside would flow more quickly. A 15,000-barrel tank could store oil in emergencies, and a berm would be installed to contain potential spills.
Energy Transfer maintains that the pipeline expansion would not increase the risk of a leak. The company hopes to begin construction on the pump station next spring, using hired union workers, and wrap up within 10 months.
Local unions involved in construction say the project would create more jobs, just like during the installation of the pipeline in 2016 and 2017.
“We did the DAPL pipeline,” said Steve Cortina, a Bismarck-based marketing representative with the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “We want to help out with the DAPL pumping station.”
Cortina was among dozens of people who arrived at the Emmons County Courthouse in Linton as the sun rose on Wednesday and stayed until after midnight, waiting through hours of official witness testimony for their chance to speak. After nearly 15 hours inside the building’s auditorium, he finally addressed the PSC at 11:45 p.m. after the hearing opened for public comment.
Everyone who stuck around and wanted a chance to speak had the opportunity, although the official witness testimony went on for so many hours that some had to leave early.
During a break earlier in the night, Winona Gayton, 17, walked up to the administrative law judge running the hearing to ask if he would let her be among the first speakers.
“I have classes tomorrow, and I’m trying to get back to them,” she told the commission.
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Gayton lives in Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe has long opposed the pipeline amid concerns that a spill could harm its water supply. Gayton echoed those concerns late Wednesday, saying she was speaking on behalf of young people who drink water from the Missouri River and swim in it every summer. The pipeline crosses under the river just north of the reservation.
“This is 500 years of indigenous resistance right here, and our ancestors coming through me,” she said. “They wanted a better life for us and look at what we have now; we are fighting for clean water.”
The PSC also heard from several Emmons County residents. One of them, Herb Grenz, also had concerns about a potential spill affecting the water and said he felt he didn’t have adequate information about how the company would respond to an incident in the area.
“I want to know how the recovery is going to be when you have 30 inches of ice and it’s 30 below,” he said.
After several landowners spoke out against the pipeline, Emmons County Commissioner Erin Magrum took the microphone. He told the PSC that the county commission, which approved its own permit for the pump station in August, does not have significant resources -- such as engineers -- to evaluate such projects.
Nevertheless, he said, the commission asked a lot of questions of Energy Transfer before deciding to support the project.
“We did as much diligence as we felt we could within our scope of expertise,” he said. “I will not expect compliance from them, I will command it.”
The PSC is not expected to make its permitting decision for a while. Both Energy Transfer and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which intervened in the case, need to file post-hearing briefs next month. The commission also will hold a work session -- or maybe a couple -- to discuss issues raised at the hearing.
“I’m hopeful that the testimony from the tribe’s witnesses will highlight for the PSC the need for them to request and consider additional information, and hopefully make that information available to the tribes and our consultants,” said Tim Purdon, an attorney for Standing Rock.
At the hearing, the tribe called on pipeline safety experts, who fielded hundreds of technical questions from the three commissioners and attorneys involved in the proceeding. Standing Rock wants the PSC to require Energy Transfer to hand over documents outlining information about the pipeline’s pressure and potential spill scenarios.
Charles Frey, Energy Transfer’s vice president of liquids engineering, told the PSC that the company would respond, if requested, and “come to a satisfactory agreement on what needs to be brought in.”
Company officials made numerous assurances to the PSC that the pipeline expansion would not increase the risk or magnitude of an oil spill, a point the tribe and its consultants contested.
Purdon reflected on the hearing Thursday, saying it’s notable that the tribe, a sovereign nation, subjected itself to the PSC’s jurisdiction to formally participate as an intervenor.
“I think that’s potentially historic,” he said. “That’s never happened before.”
(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or email@example.com.)