BISMARCK — North Dakota regulators might not automatically hold a public hearing on a request by the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline for state approval of new construction along the route.
At least one pipeline opposition group says it will ask for a hearing if necessary.
Texas-based Energy Transfer wants to build a pumping station in Emmons County as part of a $40 million effort to nearly double the pipeline’s capacity to meet demand from shippers.
The building would be on about 21 acres of property — about half of which is outside the pipeline corridor previously approved by the state Public Service Commission. Energy Transfer is seeking to amend the corridor, and it’s also asking the commission to waive the normal hearing process “to prevent potentially significant delays.”
That’s allowable under state law for facilities that “will produce minimal adverse effects” and is “pretty standard,” Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said. If the commission decides at its July 10 meeting to grant the request, it will publish a notice in the official county newspaper, and interested parties can request a hearing. If a request is made, the commission would then consider whether to grant it.
Energy Transfer’s request “is something we have done in the past on things such as these, where it’s a previously permitted project and somewhat modest changes,” Fedorchak said.
The commission in the spring of 2016 twice published a notice of opportunity for a hearing on Dakota Access route changes and had no requests, according to Fedorchak. That was a couple of months before protests against the project began drawing thousands of people to southern North Dakota.
It’s difficult to say whether construction on a pumping station might spark a resumption of on-the-ground protests, said Jesse Phelps, spokesman for the Lakota People’s Law Project. But the group will ask the Public Service Commission to hold a hearing if it’s necessary, he said.
“The public must have a say on any move by Energy Transfer that could further endanger the environment in Lakota Country,” he said. “The company’s track record of respect for the land, water and people potentially affected is obviously less than stellar.”
Energy Transfer maintains the pipeline is safe and does not intrude on indigenous rights.
Two other main opposition groups — Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network — didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The commission would consider whether a person or group requesting a hearing had a legitimate interest in the project, according to Fedorchak. She said she personally would give more weight to a request from a landowner in the construction area than she would to a request from an out-of-state protest group.
The $3.8 billion pipeline that’s been moving Bakken oil to Illinois since June 2017 is moving about 570,000 barrels per day. Energy Transfer by February 2021 wants to increase capacity to 1.1 billion barrels, which is slightly less than the state’s daily oil output.
The state produces about 1.4 million barrels of oil per day. North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad has said adding pipeline capacity is crucial to keeping Bakken oil flowing to Gulf Coast markets.
State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told state lawmakers during a meeting this week that the proposed Dakota Access expansion is “an enormous breath of fresh air to our oil and gas industry.”
The expansion would be done through an increase in horsepower — not additional pipeline. The project is to include new pumping stations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois, along with work at a tank terminal near Johnsons Corner in northwestern North Dakota including the addition of two 6,000-horsepower mainline pumps and a 300,000 barrel-capacity tank.
That work would not require approval from state regulators because it would not expand the project’s footprint, according to Fedorchak.
Federal approval is not required for Energy Transfer’s plan if the pipeline continues to function within its given maximum allowable operating pressure, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The company says the expansion would not change the pipeline pressure.