North Dakota pipeline construction halted until court date
Business Associated Press · Bismarck, N.D. · Aug 18, 2016
Developers of a four-state oil pipeline have agreed to halt construction of the project in southern North Dakota until a federal court hearing next week in Washington, D.C.
The temporary construction shutdown comes amid growing protests and increased tension over the Dakota Access Pipeline that is intended to cross the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.
Some things to know about the pipeline and the protest:
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project that would carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.
Why the protest?
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is suing federal regulators for approving the oil pipeline that would be the largest-capacity one carrying crude out of western North Dakota’s oil patch.
The tribes’ lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Washington challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings in four states for the pipeline.
The tribe argues the pipeline that would be placed less than a mile upstream of the reservation could impact drinking water for the more than 8,000 tribal members and the millions who rely on it further downstream.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the tribe by environmental group Earthjustice, said the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act.
The tribe worries the project will disturb ancient sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million acre reservation. The hearing on the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction is slated for Wednesday.
Who are the protesters?
Mostly members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but they’ve been joined by other American Indians and non-Native Americans from across the country. “Divergent” actress Shailene Woodley was part of the protests last week.
American Indians have for months been staging a nonviolent protest at a “spirit camp” at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers in the path of the pipeline.
More than a dozen young people from the reservation also ran from North Dakota to Washington to deliver 140,000 petition signatures to the Corps to protest the pipeline.
The protest took a turn last week when law enforcement was called to keep the peace between protesters and armed security guards hired by the company.
Twenty-eight people have been arrested since then and charged with interfering with the pipeline construction, including Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II.
Developers on Monday sued in federal court to stop protesters, alleging the safety of workers and law enforcement is at risk.
Is the pipeline safe?
The company said the pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment, and workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close block valves on it within three minutes if a breach is detected.
Why the need
Energy Transfer Partners announced the Dakota Access pipeline in 2014, a few days after North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged industry and government officials to build more pipelines to keep pace with the state’s oil production, which is second only to Texas’.
Supporters said the pipeline would create more markets for the state’s oil and gas, and reduce truck and oil train traffic, the latter of which has been a growing concern after a spate of fiery derailments of trains carrying North Dakota crude, including one near Dalrymple’s hometown of Casselton in 2013, and an explosion in Quebec that same year that killed 47 people.
Wisconsin derailments are a reminder of need to improve rail safety
Editorial | Railroad safety | November 12, 2015
The three train derailments in the last week in Wisconsin are another reminder that the industry, Congress and states have to move faster in making safety upgrades to rail cars and the tracks on which they move. Part of those improvements also should include better training for local responders to train accidents, better government oversight and more public access to industry records related to safety issues.
A rail accident near Alma on Saturday resulted in a spill of 18,000 gallons of ethanol, much of which escaped into the Mississippi River. That accident involved a class of tankers that are being phased out and replaced with tankers that have more safety features. On Sunday in Watertown, a derailment resulted in the spill of crude oil and prompted the evacuation of 35 homes. That accident involved tankers that had been retrofitted with some upgrades. A minor derailment also occurred Wednesday in Watertown, but there was no spill and the cars stayed upright.
As the Journal Sentinel noted in a Monday story, the accidents were the latest in a series of rail tanker mishaps across the United States and Canada in recent years that have moved safety issues and preparedness into the spotlight. That includes in Milwaukee, where oil-laden trains move through the heart of the city.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday that “There has to be a stronger emphasis on safety — not just in urban areas but smaller communities as well. Watertown is not a large community.”
And in a news release Thursday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said. “I have been sounding the alarm for two years on the need to put in place strong rail safety reforms. These two train derailments in Wisconsin are more evidence why Congress needs to take action on the reforms I have proposed.”
Baldwin went on to call on the House and Senate conference committee “to include the reforms I have proposed in the final transportation bill. We need to put in place rail reforms that provide safety, transparency, and better communication between the railroads and local first responders and communities.”
She’s right, as is Barrett. While the Senate adopted Baldwin’s reforms on rail safety in its version of the transportation bill, the House did not include those measures in its version. The conference committee should make sure the final bill includes the reforms.
The fact is that railroad infrastructure is wearing down across the nation at the same time that there is a rising tide of railroad traffic, shipping oil from North Dakota to markets. Yes, railroad shipping is generally safe. The Association of American Railroads reports that the train accident rate is down 79% from 1980 and 42% from 2000, and that “99.995% of tanks carrying crude arrive safely.”
And yet there is a serious risk to citizens. More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013 than was spilled in the previous 37 years. In 2013 in Quebec, 47 people were killed and 1.5 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in a rail accident involving crude being moved from North Dakota. That train had passed through downtown Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin derailments are part of that pattern. Congress and the industry need to pick up the pace on safety.
12 things to know about proposed Bakken oil pipeline
By William Petroski, November 9, 2015 8:14 p.m. CST
Months of debate over a proposed $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline will come to a head Thursday when the Iowa Utilities Board begins hearings on the controversial project, which has deeply divided Iowans from many walks of life.
Dakota Access LLC., a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is so confident its pipeline project will be approved that the company has already hired contractors to lay the pipe. In addition, a third-party procurement firm has already delivered huge stacks of metal pipe to Iowa that would be purchased by Dakota Access if state permits are authorized. But foes of the project insist the pipeline approval isn’t a done deal.
The pipeline would run diagonally for 343 miles through 18 Iowa counties while transporting up to 570,000 barrels of light sweet crude oil daily from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas of North Dakota.
The pipeline would end at a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill., where the oil could be transferred to railroad tank cars or linked to another pipeline for shipment to refineries in the Gulf Coast area.
The utilities board says 280 people have signed up to testify on Thursday, including 134 in favor of the pipeline, 143 opposed, and three who are neutral.
Here are 12 things to know about the upcoming hearings, which will be held at the Boone County Fairgrounds in Boone:
1. WHO IS PROPOSING THE PIPELINE?
Energy Transfer is considered a leader in the domestic energy sector, and it already owns and operates about 71,000 miles of pipelines throughout the United States.
The company announced plans for the project in June 2014, and it says it has secured long-term binding contracts for oil shipments to support construction of the pipeline. Much of the oil produced since a boom began in North Dakota’s oil region has been hauled to major refining markets by railroad tank cars and trucks, a method that is more costly and hazardous than transportation via pipeline, experts say.
Although slumping prices for crude on the global market has slowed production from North Dakota’s oil fields, Energy Transfer has not retreated on plans for the Bakken pipeline. The company says it hopes to have the pipeline operational by late 2016.
2. .WHERE IS THE PIPELINE ROUTE?
The pipeline would pass from the northwest to the southeast, through 18 Iowa counties: Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Webster, Boone, Story, Polk, Jasper, Mahaska, Keokuk, Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, and Lee.
Dakota Access says that when construction is underway, a 150-foot-wide right of way will be requested, most of which will be used temporarily. When the pipeline is finished, a permanent 50-foot easement will be required. The pipe would be buried in farm fields so that the top of the pipe is at least 48 inches deep, or 2 feet below any drain tiles, whichever is lower, according to state officials.
3. WHO SUPPORTS THE PIPELINE?
Strong support has been voiced by union construction workers who would help build the pipeline, and by Iowa business interests who see the project as contributing to the nation’s energy independence and a robust state economy.
Some farmers say transporting oil by pipeline will help ease congestion on railroads, expediting shipments of Midwest grain at harvest.
James Nelson of Sioux City, who lives about a block from a major BNSF Railway line in northwest Iowa, regularly watches railroad tanker cars carrying North Dakota crude oil pass through his neighborhood. He supports the pipeline project as a safer alternative for transporting oil, pointing to catastrophic accidents that have occurred when Bakken oil trains have derailed elsewhere. He also endorses the use of eminent domain to acquire easements for the pipeline.
“The laws for eminent domain were established for the purpose of preventing a small minority from stopping a project that so clearly minimizes the danger to so many people,” Nelson said in a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board. “That appears to be the case with the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
4. WHO IS AGAINST THE PIPELINE?
Many farmers along the route say they don’t want the pipeline to pass through their land, fearing damage to agricultural drainage lines and reduced crop yields, and they strongly object to eminent domain being authorized to gain easements for the pipeline route.
Environmentalists have joined the fight, expressing worries about pipeline spills and objecting to developing infrastructure to transport fossil fuels, which they believe contribute to climate change. In addition, the Meskwaki Indian tribe opposes the project, expressing concerns the pipeline would harm Native American graves while crossing through ancestral and ceded treaty lands.
Arthur Moeller of Fort Dodge, heir to a Calhoun County farm that has been in his family for 130 years, filed an objection to the pipeline project with the Iowa Utilities Board in in late October.
“Nowhere can we find that they have the assets and/or insurance coverage to adequately protect us now or in the future,” Moeller said. “The spills across the nation that are listed on the Internet show that it can take millions of dollars to clean them up, and in some cases it isn’t even possible… Eminent domain should not be granted to a private company for the benefit of a few at the expense of many.”
5.WHO WILL MAKE THE DECISION?
The Iowa Utilities Board comprises three persons appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
They’re all former members of the Iowa House of Representatives and are considered friendly to business: Chairwoman Geri Huser is a Democrat, and board members Libby Jacobs and Nick Wagner are both Republicans.
Branstad has championed construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was rejected by President Barack Obama’s administration last week. But Branstad has declined to take a stand on the Bakken pipeline, although he endorses eminent domain for pipelines in certain circumstances.
6. WHERE ARE THE HEARINGS AND WHAT’S THE SCHEDULE?
The hearings will be at the Boone County Fairgrounds Community Building in Boone, which board spokesman Don Tormey called the middle point for the project in Iowa.
The Iowa Utilities Board has issued an order for up to 11 days of hearings to begin Thursday, Nov. 12, and to continue through Dec. 2 if necessary. The first day of hearings will be set aside for public comment, while the following days will be used for a trial-like evidentiary proceeding.
7. WHEN WILL A DECISION BE MADE?
The Utilities Board is expected to vote on the pipeline application by year’s end or early January.
State approvals are also pending in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. Unlike the Keystone XL pipeline, approval is not required from Obama or the U.S. State Department. Federal approval was required for Keystone because it would have crossed an international border.
8..HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE HEARINGS IF I CAN’T ATTEND?
They will be carried via video livestream on the Utilities Board’s website: https://iub.iowa.gov/
9. WHAT IS THE ECONOMIC IMPACT?
Energy Transfer says the entire four-state project will cost $3.78 billion, including the Iowa segment’s cost of $1.04 billion.
The company says 2,000 to 4,000 jobs would be provided in Iowa during construction, and Iowa would receive about $50 million in sales and income taxes during construction.
Energy Transfer has promised to hire at least half of the workers on Iowa’s portion from within the state, and it has reached an agreement to hire Iowa union workers. The company says most pipeline jobs would be skilled — welders, mechanics, electricians, pipe fitters and heavy equipment operators. Average annual income for workers would be $57,000. In 2017, the company says the pipeline would generate an estimated $24.7 million in local property taxes in Iowa.
However, Iowa State University economist David Swenson, as well as critics of the pipeline project, contend that projected benefits of the pipeline in Iowa exaggerate its positive impacts on the state’s economy. Swenson testified as a neutral witness last month in a deposition submitted by the Sierra Club, and he noted that the two major contractors recently hired for the Iowa segment are both from out of state.
Once completed, the pipeline would not have any distribution centers in Iowa, and it would employ only 12 to 15 permanent employees in the state, according to the company. That’s prompted pipeline critics to contend the primary beneficiaries of the project would be out-of-state business interests.
10. WHAT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS ARE PLANNED?
Energy Transfer says that as the pipeline is constructed, every weld that joins each section of pipe would be inspected both visually and with X-rays to prevent leaks.
Valves would be installed along the pipeline to shut off the flow of oil through pipe sections in an emergency. The pipeline would be inspected and pressure-tested with water at higher than normal operating pressure before it would be placed in service. Special regulation devices would be installed to prevent oil pressure from exceeding safe limits, and an emergency shutdown system would be used to immediately and safety shut down pump stations and isolate pipe sections in an emergency.
The company also promises around-the-clock monitoring and regular inspections and testing, as well as efforts to educate the public about preventing damage. In addition, the company would coordinate with local emergency responders. It would post signs that mark the location of the pipeline and give a phone number to call before digging.
Energy Transfer also pledges to clean up the construction area after the pipeline is installed and to restore the land in compliance with state law.
11 . HOW MUCH LAND HAS BEEN ACQUIRED?
Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Dakota Access, says voluntary easement agreements have been signed for 72 percent of the properties along the Iowa section of the route and for 78 percent of the properties along the entire four-state route.
Company officials have estimated they would make $60 million in easement payments to Iowa property owners whose land the pipeline would cross.
If farmers don’t agree to voluntary easements, the Iowa Utilities Board could be asked to authorize the use of eminent domain, which would allow the company to take private land for right of way over a property owner’s objections after paying fair market compensation.
A Cherokee County District Court judge last month used a technicality to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s authority to grant eminent domain for the project. District Judge Carl Petersen said the three landowners who sued needed to first exhaust administrative remedies before they could sue the state agency. The judge did not rule whether Dakota Access is eligible for eminent domain.
12. ARE THERE OTHER REGULATORY HURDLES?
The pipeline project must win approval from regulators in three other states in addition to Iowa.
It also is subject to regulations of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and to federal environmental laws that include the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Rivers and Harbor Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Historical Preservation Act.
In addition, Dakota Access has promised to comply with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Pipeline opponents say that if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project, they still intend to oppose environmental approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.