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Dakota Access Pipeline

The company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline, shown here in October 2016 when construction was underway, is seeking state approval to build a new pumping station in Emmons County. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and several pipeline opponents plan to request a hearing on the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, following the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s unanimous decision Wednesday to open the matter up for public input.

“The tribe wants the pipeline shut down; however, there is a proposal on the table,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the tribe. “Someone needs to be accountable to make sure that’s safe and legal.” He said the commission should hold a hearing and demand a thorough engineering analysis that’s open to scrutiny by tribal experts and other agencies.

Pipeline operator Energy Transfer seeks to nearly double the amount of oil that can flow through the line, which runs from the Bakken to Illinois and drew protests in 2016 and 2017 after the tribe and environmental groups objected to the project.

The company wants to transport up to 1.1 million barrels per day by building additional pumping stations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois.

The site in North Dakota would be on 21 acres west of Linton, in Emmons County. Some of the land falls outside the previously permitted pipeline corridor, triggering the need for permission from the PSC.

While the three-member group on Wednesday did not opt to automatically hold a hearing, Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the PSC would consider requests from the public for a hearing like it did in the past for the original pipeline.

“This is a process that is something the commission uses on a very routine basis,” she said.

Members of the public have until Aug. 9 to make a request, after which the commission will decide whether to hold a hearing.

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith confirmed the tribe will push for a hearing, citing environmental concerns and the potential for more pressure along the pipeline. Representatives from the Sierra Club and Lakota People’s Law Project said they too would advocate for a hearing.

Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club, said a hearing should consider the need to expand the pipeline’s capacity. “We should be moving away from fossil fuels to renewable and alternative fuels,” he said. “Long-term, we should be putting our effort toward that.”

Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel with the Lakota People’s Law Project and a spokesperson for the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said he would reach out to other tribes that have fought the pipeline to push for a hearing. He said state officials need to ensure the public’s safety and that the pipeline’s expansion would not harm treaty or private property.

In its application to the PSC, Energy Transfer said the new pump station would operate within the existing maximum operating pressure of the line. The company is proposing to use five 6,000-horsepower motors and pumps within a building at the site.

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It hired a consultant to conduct an environmental survey of the site and said it would take measures to avoid several potential impacts that were identified related to drainage area and the nesting season of migrating birds. 

A representative of Energy Transfer said Wednesday that the company would follow the direction of the PSC with regard to a hearing.

Hasselman, the tribe’s attorney, said he believes the proposed expansion also requires a new approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the original permit was based on analysis of the pipeline’s existing capacity.

An Army Corps spokesperson declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation and referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pipeline operator says construction on the project is expected to take eight to 10 months, and it’s looking to finish the pump station in early 2021. The project is expected to cost up to $40 million.

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