More oil than originally expected was set to begin flowing Thursday in the Dakota Access pipeline, according to a press release from Energy Transfer Partners. 

The company announced Thursday that its $4.78 billion Bakken system is fully operational and would begin shipping oil after being put through its commissioning steps in May. That procedure included pressure testing the line to ensure its integrity, and uncovered a faulty weld that caused a 20-gallon release. A containment crew was on site to clean up the release, and the weld was also repaired, the company said.

The Bakken system includes the controversial 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter Dakota Access pipeline that runs from the Bakken/Three Forks formation in North Dakota to Illinois, as well as a less well-known 700-mile, 30-inch diameter Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline that lands in Texas.

While initially the company had commitments for 470,000 barrels per day, an additional open season held in early 2017 added 50,000 more barrels per day to the total.

North Dakota has six terminals in the Bakken in the counties of Mountrail, Williams and McKenzie, and several pipeline companies have either already tied-in to Dakota Access, or have tie-ins underway. The companies include Oasis Petroleum, Hess, Caliber Midstream, Tesoro, which has two connections, and several others.

While industry leaders celebrated the milestone, which they say will lead to safer, less expensive transport for Bakken crude, environmental groups decried the announcement.

The pipeline has long been described by industry leaders as vital to the future of the Bakken’s oil and gas industry, whose constrained crude has had difficulty finding a cost effective means of transportation to the coastal refineries that handle light sweet crude. 

“An operational Dakota Access pipeline means another transportation opportunity for Bakken producers to move high-quality crude oil to new and expanding markets, both domestic and export markets into Asia, Europe and elsewhere around the globe,” said Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Association.

Lynn Helms, Department of Mineral Resources Director has estimated the pipeline can save companies anywhere from $2 to $7 per barrel on transportation costs, as well as providing a more stable, known cost that brings certainty to oil and gas companies seeking to move crude to market.

“The commencement of Dakota Access will finally bring lower transportation costs to North Dakota producers,” he said. “As production increases, DAPL will provide a sure mode of transportation to coastal refineries. This will certainly help North Dakota look more attractive as producers are looking at the best places to deploy capital.”

The pipeline also means oil moves to market more safely, said Tim Mackey, president of the Laborer’s District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our members for what they accomplished in North Dakota,” he said. “It takes skill and professionalism to build a pipeline like Dakota Access in the face of relentless scrutiny and unsafe attacks on worksites,” he said. “Today our members have the satisfaction of a job well done, and the public can sleep better know that the danger of crude rail shipments is reduced as the oil moves safely underground.”

Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II renewed calls to fight the pipeline and to hold the administration accountable for starting and then stopping a more detailed environmental assessment.

“Now that the Dakota Access Pipeline is fully operational, we find it more urgent than ever that the courts and administration address the risks posed to the drinking water of millions of American citizens,” he said. 

He pointed out the recent releases in March, one of which happened when Dakota Access was being commissioned and the other of which happened as a feeder line was being commissioned. Those did not give Archambault confidence as to how the company would contain and clean a serious spill.

“We will continue to battle the operation of this pipeline in court and remind everyone that just because the oil is flowing now doesn’t mean that it can’t be stopped,” he said. “The courts can stop it by demanding that the administration be held accountable for the full Environmental Impact Statement it initiated and then abandoned.”

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