LINTON, N.D. — Dakota Access pipeline officials argued Wednesday that the company’s proposal to double the line’s capacity does not increase the potential of a failure, a claim that has been long dismissed by opponents of the idea.
Texas-based Energy Transfer wants to double the capacity of the pipeline to as much as 1.1 million barrels daily to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, and is seeking permission for pump stations to do it.
Supporters and opponents of the proposal packed a small-town auditorium in Linton for a field hearing before state regulators considering the next phase of a project that sparked months of sometimes violent protests during its construction.
Chuck Frey, a vice-president of engineering for Energy Transfer, told North Dakota regulators the pipeline’s expansion “does not increase the risk” of a spill.
“I assure the commission we plan to cut no corners on this work,” Frey said.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other opponents have long argued that a leak in the pipeline would threaten the tribe’s Missouri River water supply, and say that increasing pressure magnifies the risk.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said increasing the pipeline’s capacity increases the “consequences as well as the likelihood” of an oil spill. Faith told The Associated Press that he doesn’t trust the company’s promise.
“There are no guarantees for anything,” Faith said. “I’m telling everybody to stay strong and let the process handle itself. I feel positive.”
Thousands of opponents of the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s been moving oil from the Dakotas through Iowa to Illinois for more two years gathered in southern North Dakota in late 2016 and early 2017. They camped on federal land and often clashed with police, resulting in hundreds of arrests over six months.
The pipeline is routed less than a half mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Tribal members are asking the Public Service Commission to deny the expansion of the pipeline that moves North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois.
The public hearing in the community of about 1,000 is near where a pump station would be placed to increase the line’s capacity.
The tribe provided transportation for dozens of its members to attend the hearing. State troopers and sheriff’s deputies stood by as attendees cleared metal detectors and filled the auditorium to its capacity of 400 for the commission meeting.
“I’m here because they want to double the risk of a spill,” said Joye Braun, a community organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network and one of the leaders of the Dakota Access pipeline protest that ended two years ago.
Standing Rock attorney Timothy Purdon grilled Energy Partners officials over their plan. He also questioned them about the dozen leaks — totalling about 6,000 gallons (22,711 litres) — along the line that the company has reported since the line went into service.
Todd Stamm, the company’s vice-president of liquid pipeline operations, said the leaks occurred on facilities related to the pipeline, but not on the line itself. He said the company plans to use additional emergency response equipment and at least one employee to monitor the North Dakota site.
Steve Cortina of the Laborers’ International Union of North America was among the trade workers in attendance, many of whom worked on the original project.
“We supported it then and we want to be here to support the expansion now,” he said.
The company wants to start construction on its $40 million pump station next spring, with construction expected to take as long as 10 months.
Energy Transfer also is proposing additional pumping stations in the Dakotas and Illinois. The company needs permission from North Dakota regulators for the expansion because some of the land needed is outside of the pipeline’s path and was not considered in the company’s original permit.
Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the state wants to develop North Dakota’s energy resources “in an orderly fashion with minimal impact.” She emphasized that doesn’t mean “no impact.”
“We want to get all the information we can for a very thorough record so we can make the best decision possible,” she said.
The panel has not said when it plans on making the decision.
The hearing comes in the wake of a 383,000-gallon (1.4 million-litre) Keystone pipeline oil spill in northeastern North Dakota. The line, owned by TC Energy, restarted Sunday, nearly two weeks after the spill was reported. The cause of the leak has not been disclosed.