PUC to consider pipeline without environmental impact statement

Farm Forum

PIERRE — An environmental impact statement won’t be required for the Dakota Access crude-oil pipeline through South Dakota.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 Tuesday to reject a request from some pipeline opponents for an EIS.

The decision came as the commission began its permit hearing for the project.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Dakota Rural Action jointly filed the request for the EIS.

Their motion came two hours before the scheduled start of the hearing. They wanted the commission to put the hearing on hold until the EIS could be completed.

An EIS is optional under state law.

Federal review of the project is being conducted in segments by individual agencies.

That approach is allowed under federal law.

State law gives the commission one year to make a permit decision. The deadline regarding Dakota Access is Dec. 15.

Commissioner Gary Hanson favored proceeding somehow with an environmental review within the time frame.

“I’m concerned about the environment here and why we don’t have that EIS on this,” Hanson said.

He then told Brett Koenecke, the lead lawyer for Dakota Access: “I’m surprised you guys didn’t have one to begin with.”

Koenecke said the commission’s hearing process is more open and preferable to having a third party conduct an EIS.

Matthew Rappold, a lawyer representing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said working without an EIS means the commission might miss evidence unless witnesses testify.

Chris Nelson, the commission’s chairman, indicated he would have viewed the EIS request differently if it had been made in June. But, Nelson said, two hours before the hearing was “out of line.”

The tie-breaker came from Rich Sattgast, who is state treasurer. He was appointed by the governor to participate in the Dakota Access proceedings as a substitute for commissioner Kristie Fiegen.

She recused herself months ago over a family conflict of interest.

“It’s now up to the Public Utilities Commission to look into this matter,” Sattgast said.

Hanson said Dakota Access must meet all of the requirements for the permit. He implied that might be difficult without an EIS.

“It seems like from the get-go that we’re starting with the potential that we don’t have what we need,” Hanson said.

The commissioners also voted 3-0 to reject a request from Dakota Access. The company wanted to prohibit the Rosebud Sioux Tribe from presenting evidence at all.

Rappold previously had delayed revealing to the company what he planned to present at the hearing and told Dakota Access lawyers they had the burden to prove their case.

Opening statements

The various parties presented their opening statements Tuesday with the exception of PUC staff, whose attorney reserved hers for the presentation of the staff’s case.

The first witness for Dakota Access spent the rest of the afternoon on the witness stand. Joey Mahmoud, vice president for engineering, said his plan is to start construction in South Dakota in spring 2016.

He said the South Dakota segment would be built in three spreads simultaneously, with about 900 workers and 100 inspectors per spread.

The pipeline would transport oil from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas of northwest North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Ill. It would carry 450,000 barrels per day initially and could reach 570,000 barrels.

Mahmoud said permitting is concluded in Illinois and North Dakota.

The total length of the pipeline across the four states would be 1,134 miles, with 271 miles in South Dakota. Mahmoud said easements are completed for 88.14 percent of the route in South Dakota.

The company’s estimated cost for the South Dakota segment is $820 million.

Pipeline route

The route would enter South Dakota through Campbell County and continue at a 45-degree angle southeasterly through McPherson, Edmunds, Faulk, Spink, Beadle, Kingsbury, Miner, Lake, McCook, Minnehaha, Turner and Lincoln counties on its way to Iowa.

Mahmoud said Sunoco Logistics would operate the pipeline.

The hearing at the Capitol continues through Friday and resumes Tuesday through Friday next week if needed.

Dakota Access is the second pipeline permit under consideration at this time.

The commission earlier this year took testimony on whether TransCanada can fulfill requirements of the permit issued more than four years ago for its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which still awaits federal clearance.

Commission chairman Nelson has said publicly he expects that decision by the end of this year.