Oil pipeline moratorium bill killed during Monday hearing

Shannon Marvel smarvel@aberdeennews.com
Farm Forum

A bill that aimed to halt the construction of oil pipelines in South Dakota was killed during a hearing Monday morning.

Lawmakers on the House Commerce and Energy Committee Prime voted 8-4 to defer House Bill 1223 to the 41st day of legislation.

Had it been passed, House Bill 1223 would’ve prevented the construction of oil pipelines in the state after July 1.

Proponents of the bill aired their concerns over the safety of oil pipelines, citing recent spills and deficiencies within the leak detection technology used by pipeline operators such as TransCanada and Energy Transfer Partners.

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the pipeline moratorium would serve as a pause to allow time for pipeline safety technologies to improve.

Bordeaux cited the recent Keystone Pipeline spill in Marshall County near Amherst that was discovered Nov. 16, where 210,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in a field enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

“The thing that really gets me about this one here is (TransCanada officials) were bragging about how they were able to identify the leak with their leak detection system and were able to start the process of containment through their procedures within 15 minutes,” Bordeaux said.

“But to me, if 15 minutes amounts to almost of quarter of a million gallons, that’s pretty risky.”

Bordeaux said without vast improvements to the pipeline leak detection systems used today, there’s too much risk involved to allow another pipeline in the state.

Oil pipeline lobbyists and company representatives testified against the bill during the hearing, saying that crude oil pipelines are crucial to economic development within the state.

Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, one of the bill’s sponsors, began by saying the bill would need to be amended to place a moratorium on all crude oil pipelines, as opposed to all oil pipelines.

“We need to make sure we are putting South Dakota and its natural resources ahead of companies that risk our way of life,” Heinert said.

“I’m not saying no pipelines ever, but we have to get to a spot where we look at this technology. How can we do this better? What are these routes? How do we keep it out of our river? It’s time we step up and say we’re going to pause and we don’t want anything else right now. Lets move forward together in a safe productive way,” he said.

Heinert noted that the opponents of the bill continue to use the same arguments used in past legislation involving the safety of pipelines.

“Maybe if they would’ve worked with us, we wouldn’t have this bill today,” Heinert said.

“The tax revenue for the school — if one of those breaks in one of those communities, you’re not going to have a school because who wants to live in an area that’s completely polluted,” he said.

Heinert said that without access to clean, drinking water the economic benefits of an oil pipeline become obsolete.

“These pipelines are very close to those rural water systems, and we also have wells for when the flow out of the river isn’t what we need, we’re adding extra to it. The Oglala Aquifer — the cleanest source of water in the U.S. — you don’t get a do over when you pollute that aquifer. This isn’t about us versus them. This is about all of us,” Heinert said.

Harding County Commissioner Dean Wagner said preventing the construction of crude oil pipelines would lead to budget deficiencies and poor quality roads in Harding County.

“In our county they’re are going to be producing oil well drills. Harding County alone has seven new wells that are planned to be drilled,” Wagner said.

He added that trucks would have to be used to transport the crude oil without the ability to construct feed lines that connect the wells to oil pipelines.

“This will destroy county roads and cause a great financial burden on all producing towns. We are already having a hard time keeping county roads in good conditions,” Wagner said.

Rebecca Turk, a lobbyist for Dakota Rural Action, said oil pipelines pose a greater threat to the state’s agriculture economy.

“Pipelines leak. They can cause massive damage to land and water, as we heard and saw with the Amherst spill,” Turk said.

She said there are ag producers in the state whose drainage systems, land quality and water sources have been damaged due to oil pipeline development and failures.

“There’s no real bonding in place for these projects and that’s a concern. We take a break, sit down, really consider all of our framework for looking at these projects,” Turk said.

Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle, asked Drew Duncan, a representative for TransCanada, whether the company has consulted with area tribes when planning and developing plans for an oil pipeline in the state.

Duncan said tribes are considered their own government during the federal permitting process and are to be consulted by the federal government, not the company responsible for developing the pipeline.

He explained that if TransCanada were to consult with tribal governments, the permitting process wouldn’t work.

“So you’re telling me the federal government does not allow your company to go in and have a consultation process with the tribes?” May asked Duncan.

Duncan answered “yes”, which didn’t sit well with May.

“I’m an oil person, I’m all about oil,” May said. “What I am against is ramming and jamming and not having a consultation with the tribes. They need some kind of benefit.”

May noted that there will be no reconciliation between those for and against oil pipelines if TransCanada and other oil pipeline companies continue to develop projects in the state without consulting tribal governments.

“I know this bill isn’t going anywhere, but I think it’s a heads up. Because if I’m getting tired of it. I’m sure a lot of other people are getting tired of it,” May said.

Heinert echoed May’s sentiment, saying this bill isn’t about undervaluing the importance of fossil fuels.

“I get it. I use fuel. I know we need oil,” Heinert said. “But these pipelines aren’t carrying Rotella 15-40. This is crude oil that is going to a refinery for whatever purpose. It’s not as simple as everyone makes it out to be.”

Sen. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, said the bill is a result of lawmakers’ frustrations when trying to resolve oil pipeline issues.

“That frustration is there isn’t that consultation piece in a lot of these conversations. How do we actually go about that and have a constructive conversation to where we’re having dwindling natural resources. And we really need to think about that, especially since we’re an ag economy. We don’t want to endanger our greatest revenue driver,” Killer said.

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