Energy Transfer plans to start building a pump station in Emmons County next week to help push more oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The work will begin amid lingering legal and regulatory disputes, including the possibility of a court-ordered pipeline shutdown.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has received word from the pipeline developer that work is slated to start Wednesday at the site 5 miles west of Linton, PSC spokeswoman Stacy Eberl said. The commission approved the project in February after a marathon hearing last fall, during which experts testified about the safety of expanding the pipeline’s capacity and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe spoke out against the plans.
Initial work at the site will involve surveying, installing environmental controls, moving dirt and pouring concrete, according to Energy Transfer. Spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email that similar construction work is beginning on a pump station in South Dakota as well.
The pipeline company wants to nearly double the amount of oil that can flow through the line, from 570,000 barrels per day to 1.1 million barrels per day. To facilitate the expansion, it plans to build pump stations in three states -- North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois -- and add additional horsepower to several existing stations.
The Illinois Commerce Commission, which is a regulatory body similar to the PSC in North Dakota, has not made a final decision on the expansion there, where environmental groups have pushed back on the company’s plans. John Albers, an attorney representing several of the organizations, said a ruling could come in mid-October.
The start of construction in North Dakota arrives as U.S. District Judge James Boasberg weighs another request by Standing Rock and other tribes fighting the pipeline to halt its operations. The judge issued a ruling in July requiring the pipeline to shut down for the duration of a lengthy environmental review he ordered earlier in the year, but the shutdown was reversed by a higher court, which is now considering a broader appeal on the review.
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation lies just south of the pipeline’s Missouri River crossing, and the tribe intervened in the expansion case before the PSC, raising concerns that pumping more oil through the line would heighten the risk of an oil spill. Energy Transfer maintained that its expansion plans would allow for oil to be transported safely and would not pose any greater risks.
The tribe’s arguments did not persuade commissioners, who concluded that many of the issues they raised fall under the oversight of a federal agency tasked with overseeing pipeline safety.
Some of the same issues, however, factored into Boasberg’s initial decision to shut down the line, said Tim Purdon, an attorney who represents the tribe in the PSC case.
The company’s decision to move toward doubling the pipeline’s capacity amid the ongoing legal uncertainty “doesn’t seem like a prudent course of business to me,” he said.
Granado said Energy Transfer is “pleased to begin this permitted work as part of our approved plans to optimize the Dakota Access pipeline.” She did not comment directly on beginning construction amid the legal and regulatory disputes.
The expansion will provide temporary jobs in North Dakota. As many as a half-dozen members of at least one local labor union will be involved in building the new pump station.
“Members of the Laborers International Union Local 563 will be an integral part of completing the pumping stations in all states,” Local 563 North Dakota Business Agent Cory Bryson said in a statement. “We were there at the beginning of the pipeline construction and are glad to be part of this phase to help increase capacity on the line.”
The pipeline developer also is working with Michels Corp., a Wisconsin-based contractor with a nationwide presence, according to the minutes of a preconstruction meeting held in September with Energy Transfer representatives and PSC staff.
The PSC has contracted with Mandan-based Keitu Engineers & Consultants to do an inspection of the pump station after it's built.
The station will be built on a 21-acre site and include five 6,000-horsepower motors and pumps inside a building. The facility is expected to cost $40 million.
In the company's application to the PSC seeking to amend the pipeline’s permit to allow for the pump station, it estimated the facility will take eight to 10 months to build.
Energy Transfer first sought states' approval for the expansion in the summer of 2019, citing rising oil production in the Bakken and increased demand for transportation to carry oil to market. The pipeline runs 1,200 miles from western North Dakota to a shipping hub in Illinois. It's been operating since June 2017.
The market for oil has changed dramatically since then amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has curtailed travel globally and, subsequently, the demand for oil. As a result, oil prices tanked and oil production in North Dakota dropped from around 1.5 million barrels per day last year to less than 900,000 barrels per day this spring.
The oil industry is showing some signs of recovery in the Bakken, with production rebounding to more than 1 million barrels per day in July, according to the latest state data available.
Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or email@example.com.
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