Dakota Access Moving Forward – Thousands of Barrels at a Time

May 2017, Vol. 244, No. 5

Pipeline & Gas Journal Staff Report

Only days after its first crude oil was shipped, the long-delayed Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) moved to increase the amount it will carry in the future, seeking additional customers through an open season that began on March 30.

Dakota Access pipeline consists of 1,172 miles of 30-inch crude oil pipeline from North Dakota to Patoka, IL, and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline consists of over 700 miles of existing Energy Transfer pipeline that has been converted to crude oil service from Patoka to Nederland, TX. The two pipelines (together, the “Bakken Pipeline”) are expected to be in service in the second quarter.

The expansion would mean additional customers would be able to ship oil to Patoka or transfer to other pipelines or sell it to refineries along the Gulf Coast. “It is going to certainly shake up the existing transportation modes,” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, told the Bismarck Tribune.

The $3.8 billion DAPL, long-considered vital to shippers in the region, has the potential to transport over half of the oil produced in the Bakken Shale. It is seen by some analysts as the catalyst for leveling the playing field for players in North Dakota, where oil often sells for $10 a barrel less than the national benchmark due to a lack of pipelines connecting the area to refining centers.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETC), which controls the long-delayed line, could theoretically boost DAPL’s initial capacity from 470,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd simply by upgrading its pumps, according to the company.

This flurry of positive activity certainly represents a change of fortune for ETC, which as recently as March 20 filed court briefs saying DAPL had suffered “coordinated physical attacks” along the line that “pose threats to life, physical safety and the environment.”

These attacks came two days after an appeals court refused a request from the Native American tribes for an emergency order to prevent oil from flowing through the pipeline in what was widely seen as a last-ditch effort to halt DAPL operations. With the ruling, the court effectively ended any chance of opponents to halt the flow of oil.

It had been roughly a year earlier, in early April, that protesters in North Dakota set up the Sacred Stone camp in support of Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ ongoing court battle to shut down pipeline construction amid claims that it posed a threat to their drinking water and religious practices. From that point forward, the battle raged on in the courts, along the pipeline’s construction site and, to a never-before-seen extent, in the national media.

In developing the route, the Army Corps of Engineers alone held 389 meetings with 55 tribes regarding the project. In addition, the Army Corps reached out to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nearly a dozen times to discuss archaeological and other surveys conducted before finalizing the Dakota Access route.

By the time the protest camps were shut down in mid-March, the Washington Post said the Corps of Engineers had spent $1.1 million cleaning up the location, hauling away 835 dumpsters full of remaining trash and debris.

In December, under the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers stopped DAPL’s construction beneath Lake Oahe, saying an alternate route needed to be considered. In February, under the new Trump administration, the Corps reversed itself, granting the easement to complete the pipeline. Drilling began immediately and ETC expects the complete Bakken system to be in-service by June 1.

Following is a timeline of what led up to the events of 2017:

December 2014 – Energy Transfer Partners applies to build a 1,172-mile pipeline crossing four states from North Dakota to Iowa, and designed to carry as much as 570,000 bpd of crude oil.

December 2015 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Omaha District publishes a draft of its plan to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline route under the Missouri River. The plan is opened to public comments.

Jan. 25, 2016 – ETC subsidiary Dakota Access received approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission, giving it three of the required four state approvals needed to move forward.

March 11, 2016 – Iowa, with a unanimous vote of its Utilities Board, became the fourth and final state to approve the DAPL plan. That day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers calling for another environmental assessment of the project.

April 1, 2016 – Native Americans riding horses arrived at the pipeline’s site to protest its construction, saying it passed across sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux.

April 29, 2016 – The Standing Rock Sioux petitioned the Corps of Engineers, calling for a more thorough environmental impact study.

July 26, 2016 – The Corps of Engineers gave final approval to easement and water crossing permits, allowing DAPL to go forward. Lake Oahe – a sacred Standing Rock Sioux site – along with the Mississippi River and Lake Sakakawea were among the waters granted easements.

July 27, 2016 – The Standing Rock Sioux tribe sued the Corps of Engineers and requested an emergency halt to all construction. By this point, preparatory work at construction sites had already begun.

Aug. 1, 2016 – Construction equipment was set on fire at a protest site in Iowa.

Aug. 24, 2016 – A federal judge heard arguments from the Standing Rock Sioux that claimed the tribe was not allowed to express concerns about the project’s possible impact on their lands. The tribe claimed that because the pipeline would go beneath Lake Oahe, the project was a threat to “environmental quality and sacred nature of the water.”

Sept. 3, 2016 – Protesters marched from a camp to private land after bulldozers began preparing the site in North Dakota. Guard dogs attacked protesters at the site.

Sept. 6, 2016 – U.S. District Judge James Boasberg temporarily halted construction on the portion of DAPL that crosses the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, pending a full decision on the tribe’s earlier lawsuit.

Sept. 8, 2016 – North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple activated the state National Guard to assist local law enforcement at demonstration sites.

Sept. 9, 2016 – Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s request to stop construction.

Oct. 12, 2016 – ETP proceeded with construction, and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department arrested 27 people demonstrating at the site. Separately, days later in Iowa, about $2 million worth of construction equipment was damaged in an intentionally set fire.

Nov. 25, 2016 – The Corps of Engineers ordered protesters to leave encampments on federal land by Dec. 5; Dalrymple issued an evacuation order for the area, citing “harsh weather.” Many protesters remained.

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