Case Study: North Dakota’s 13-Month Review of the Dakota Access Pipeline

As we’ve highlighted previously , the Dakota Access Pipeline underwent a rigorous multi-agency permitting process prior to being built.

Before beginning construction, Dakota Access was required to obtain permits from regulatory agencies in each of the states that it traversed. These reviews, which were independent of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ own detailed analysis, involved extensive outreach of landowners, state agencies, local governments, public interest groups, tribes, and various other stakeholders.

In North Dakota, this process was led by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (NDPSC), an elected three-person state board responsible for regulating electric and natural gas utilities, telecommunications, railroads, and the siting of energy transmission projects like DAPL.

The NDPSC commenced its 13-month review of DAPL in December 2014 upon receiving the company’s application to construct and operate the pipeline. During the spring and early summer of 2015, the NDPSC held three public hearings in counties located along the route of the proposed pipeline. These well-advertised hearings offered interested parties the opportunity to express their views of the project as well as inform the Commission of any concerns regarding the construction or operation of the pipeline.

As noted by E&E News:

“At meetings in Williston, Killdeer and Mandan, landowners and neighbors showed up to express concern about pipeline safety and reclamation. All three meetings were at least 10 hours and featured detailed presentations from Dakota Access, questions from the commission and public comment.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which had at this point already rebuffed efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access to consult on the project, declined to attend the hearings. The tribe’s lack of engagement came despite a personal invitation from the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner urging them to participate in the process. Ultimately, the tribe never expressed any concerns to the NDPSC throughout the entire review process.

“It’s really unfortunate that they didn’t come to the table when they were invited,” saidNDPSC Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak in the fall of 2016 after the tribe had begun protesting the project.

NDPSC offered to hold a fourth hearing in the fall of 2015 but received no requests to do so:

“On September 16, 2015, the Commission issued a Notice of Opportunity for Hearing (Notice of Opportunity) concerning the Seventeen Adjustments. The Notice of Opportunity indicated that persons desiring a hearing must file a written request identifying their interest in the proceedings and the reasons for requesting a hearing by October 22, 2015. The Notice of Opportunity additionally indicated that the Commission can determine the matter without a hearing. No requests for a hearing were received by the deadline of October 22, 2015.

Following the public hearings, the NDPSC continued its engagement with stakeholders, including the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Health, Department of Trust Land, and Department of Environmental Quality. These consultations were informed by an extensive pipeline corridor study, which included an environmental review, spill response plans, and an archaeological survey which identified 509 sites of interest – each of which were evaluated and subsequently avoided in the pipeline’s final route.

By the time the NDPSC granted approval for the pipeline in January of 2016, it had reviewed more than 3,100 pages of scientific analysis and stakeholder input. As a result, the Commission’s final order included many mitigative measures and requirements necessary to accommodate concerns expressed during the review process. The final ordernotes:

“The location, construction, and operation of the Project will produce minimal adverse effects on the environment and upon the welfare of the citizens of North Dakota.”

In-depth analyses such as the one undertaken by the NDPSC was carried out by each of the regulatory bodies in Iowa, South Dakota, and Illinois where the pipeline also crossed. Each of these states, after gathering pertinent details, accessing scientific facts, and soliciting public input, concluded that it was in the best interest for Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward.

In our next post, GAIN Fact Checker will examine why the Dakota Access Pipeline was built and the impact it has had on energy production in North Dakota.