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Pipeline construction stopped (copy)

Construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline began in 2016, with work on the pipeline taking place at this site near St. Anthony.

State regulators will hold a public hearing over the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Nov. 13 in Linton.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission received numerous requests for a hearing on pipeline operator Energy Transfer’s plan to build a pump station in Emmons County. The facility would add horsepower to send more oil through the line, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois. Energy Transfer wants to nearly double the line’s existing capacity to accommodate up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day to meet growing demand from shippers in the Bakken.

At Wednesday’s PSC meeting, Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said that, given issues raised by landowners and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe related to the construction and operation of the project, “it seemed like the appropriate next step to hold a public hearing.”

Energy Transfer plans to place five electric motors and pumps in Emmons County, in addition to making similar upgrades in South Dakota and Illinois. The pump station would be on 21 acres 5 miles west of Linton and would extend beyond the existing footprint permitted by the PSC in 2016, triggering the need for new PSC approvals.

The state’s three public service commissioners on Wednesday all voted for a hearing.

Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus said there was never a question as to whether the PSC would hold a hearing. He said a denial would likely have been appealed in court and taken another six months to sort out. In the end, he said, it’s likely a court’s ruling would have required a hearing anyway.

November’s hearing will consider whether the location and operation of the pump station will harm the environment or residents, whether the facility is compatible with environmental preservation, and whether it will ensure the reliability and integrity of the pipeline.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said the hearing will stick to issues surrounding Energy Transfer’s application and avoid extraneous topics.

“It’s not about whether fossil fuels should be used on Earth,” he said.

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Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Standing Rock, said the tribe looks forward to participating and will request to intervene in the case, which would allow the tribe to question Energy Transfer. The tribe has long opposed the pipeline and is still fighting the original project in court.

Hasselman said commissioners are asking the right questions about the proposed expansion and suggested they also consider risks given Energy Transfer’s track record in other states such as Pennsylvania where the company is under criminal investigation amid another pipeline project.

“Dakota Access has a lot of explaining to do on why it should be allowed to double the capacity of a pipeline that was never designed to handle it,” he said.

In filings with the PSC, Energy Transfer says the expansion will operate within the existing maximum operating pressure of the pipeline.

Many of the tribe's supporters and members of the Sierra Club also requested a hearing. So did several landowners who live near the site of the proposed pump station and expressed concern about the potential for an oil spill in a creek less than a half-mile from the site.

Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman said the company is “happy to participate in this hearing, as it will provide us the opportunity to clarify the scope and benefits of the project.”

The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. in the Emmons County Courthouse auditorium. Fedorchak visited the facility earlier this week and said it can hold 200-300 people.

She said the event will be structured like other PSC hearings. Energy Transfer will have an opportunity to testify and be cross-examined by the commission and any intervenors. A similar process for intervenors will follow. Then, members of the public can speak. The commission and the other parties involved in the case can also direct questions their way.

Fedorchak said she hopes to complete the hearing in a day, but it could extend into a second day if necessary. The PSC is not expected to immediately make a decision on whether to approve the pump station.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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