This Thursday, members of North Dakota’s Public Service Commission will hold the first of three hearings on the Dakota Access Pipeline, in Mandan. As the editorial board of The Bismarck Tribune noted, the DAPL project is of vital importance to the economy of North Dakota and our region.
North Dakota’s energy abundance has created challenges for getting these resources to consumers. Oil by rail and tanker trucks simply cannot be solely relied upon to provide transportation of volatile crude. The Midwest has had a glaring lack of a safe and reliable means of transporting energy resources. As the Tribune opined:
For years state and industry officials have lobbied for the need for more pipelines to carry oil out of the Bakken. The goal of the pipelines is to take pressure off railroads and trucks and provide a safer way to move oil.
The Tribune has in the past and continues to support pipelines as a safe alternative for moving oil from the Bakken.
The $3.7 billion investment that is the Dakota Access Pipeline would provide exactly the capacity that many in the state have wanted. As the Tribune’s editorial board mentioned, the project would employ the latest safety technology and commit the company building the pipeline to use land reclamation experts and develop a land mitigation plan.
We encourage the timely review of this application and urge that the Public Service Commission proceed in approving this project.
This week, nearly 80 different businesses, labor organizations, and advocacy groups are coming together across the country “to highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems,” during the 3rd annual Infrastructure Week. Much like roads, bridges, and ports, energy transportation is an essential part of our national infrastructure. As a leading oil and gas producer, our country needs a safe, reliable, and efficient method of transporting our energy resources.
Our nation’s current pipeline infrastructure is robust and efficient, with over 150,000 miles of pipeline transporting over 70 percent of America’s petroleum and crude oil. But, as domestic production continues to increase, we must expand upon this vast network by upgrading existing pipelines and engaging in new projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In our region, we’ve seen energy production increase, but infrastructure development has lagged behind. This week is a good reminder that we need national infrastructure to develop and embrace proven pipeline technologies in order to deliver clean, affordable, and domestic energy to businesses and households across the country.
A bill designed to stifle large scale infrastructure projects in Iowa is currently being reviewed by lawmakers in the state House and Senate. Unsurprisingly, the editorial staff at The Des Moines Register has voiced its dissent in last week’s “Roses and Thistles” section. The staff opined:
“Bills backed by key Republicans and Democrats in both houses would require companies to have voluntary easements from 75 percent of property owners before receiving eminent domain authority from the state. Pipeline and power line companies say setting the bar so high could force them to risk costly investments in projects that may never happen. That would be fine with some proponents of these bills, however, because their aim is to block both projects. In the process, however, they could prevent all future pipelines and powerlines, even ones that environmentalists might support. Until scientists figure out a way to magically deliver power without wires or underground pipes, they will be necessary.”
Hampering new energy infrastructure projects will not make our region safer and will not draw the investment and jobs that our economy needs in order to grow. As the editorial staff pointed out, power lines and pipelines may not be perfect, but they are necessary. In light of last week’s events in Heimdal, ND show, diversifying how we get energy to consumers is absolutely critical. As The Des Moines Register piece pointed out, this bill does not bring any constructive ideas to that issue.
Heimdal, a tiny community in North Dakota, was severely affected by an oil train derailment last week, which caused six oil transport cars to catch fire and prompted the evacuation of the town. While no one was hurt, the accident raises the question; how can we safely transport energy throughout the Midwest?
Though our national freight rail system invests billions of dollars each year in rail infrastructure and railcar upgrades, incidents like the Heimdal derailment continue to occur. This negatively affects the schedule and safety of our rail network, and the communities that rely on freight lines for transportation of their products. Given these strains, we must look for more long term solutions to the current midstream bottleneck.
Lawmakers in our region have reached the same conclusion. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple was quoted recently in saying that “pipelines offer the safest mode of crude oil transportation so we must also develop greater pipeline capacity.”
The statistics certainly prove him right. Energy projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline will ensure that domestically produced oil will move to market via the most technologically advanced and safest means possible. The pipeline will also create thousands of local jobs, and generate significant amounts of tax revenue. Pipeline construction means fewer railcars dedicated to oil transport, and will free up space on the rails for our region’s crops.
While no mode of energy transportation will ever be perfect, diversifying transportation options for energy resources is the right thing to do. State executives and legislators in our region should take a look at the benefits of pipelines and support Governor Dalrymple’s leadership on pipeline construction.
A bill passed by the North Dakota state legislature has shown that while effective negotiation and genuine consensus building might be the most difficult thing to accomplish in politics, positive change can happen if and when it does occur. A working group comprised of landowners, industry representatives, and government officials collaborated on a new pipeline restoration and reclamation oversight program, which will affect all future energy infrastructure projects in the state, including the Dakota Access Pipeline. As Senator Jessica Unruh explained in her recent op-ed:
“The program is multifaceted. As it is implemented, it will provide support to landowners through technical assistance and education outreach regarding pipeline reclamation. If any pipeline reclamation issues exist and persist, landowners can work with local individuals hired by the Ag Department to help resolve the concerns or problems. This will help to ensure proper reclamation practices are completed on pipeline corridors. The hope is that this will help expedite proper installation of pipelines throughout North Dakota. Pipelines reduce rail traffic and delays, get more trucks off our roads, and help reduce natural gas flaring.”
Ensuring that landowners in our region have the support and resources they need when granting easements is critical to making sure that energy infrastructure projects can proceed safely, responsibly, and efficiently. As Senator Unruh noted, cooperation and teamwork can provide mutual benefit from our region’s rich energy resources, and this program is a critical part of that vision.
The American energy revolution currently underway in our country has not only made us a leading producer of oil and natural gas, it has the potential to reshape world politics. But closer to home, the energy boom has created opportunity and employment for many Americans, strengthening the middle class and making possible a renaissance of American manufacturing. Illinois is one of the states in our region that has the potential to benefit from the abundance of energy. As the former head of the Illinois Commerce Commission, Stanford Levin, wrote:
“Energy Transfer Partners is proposing a pipeline, known at the Bakken Pipeline, to carry oil from North Dakota to Patoka, in southern Illinois. This will provide construction jobs in Illinois and will also contribute to the economic development of southern Illinois.”
Mr. Levin rightly notes that in order to capture the benefits of the state’s energy abundance, new pipelines will be needed. Intrastate pipelines, as well as major interstate projects, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline will help bind our region together and help us take full advantage of the benefits of domestic energy production.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is tasked with inspecting our nation’s pipelines, is looking to the next generation of scientists to tackle the challenges that a rapidly expanding energy infrastructure can present. As Bakken Shale wrote:
“In addition to hiring more than 100 new safety inspectors this year, the PHMSA will also be awarding $ 2 million in grants for students and faculty to research pipeline safety solutions. These grants designed to expose new engineers and scientists to the technical side of the energy transportation sector.”
We applaud the actions PHMSA is undertaking to make sure that the next generation of energy projects, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, is as safe and environmentally friendly as our capabilities allow it to be. While pipelines have consistently proven themselves to be the safest mode of transporting energy, we should always look to incorporate new technologies and solutions to improving our energy infrastructure.
North Dakota is taking steps to insure that its energy transportation system remains safe, reliable, and dependable. While pipeline and railroad regulation is traditionally the domain of the federal government and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), North Dakota’s governor has signaled his commitment to ensuring the integrity of the state’s energy transportation system. As The Dickinson Press recently reported:
“Dalrymple and the Public Service Commission have also proposed a state-run railroad safety program and pipeline integrity program “that would complement federal oversight in North Dakota,” according to the release. The proposal would cost North Dakota $1.4 million for three position to inspect railroad tracks. Another three state employees would inspect pipelines that transport oil and other liquids to market.”
The decision to bring on more safety personnel has drawn praise from around the state, which is warranted. We believe that expanding the number of full time pipeline safety inspectors will have the double benefit of making existing pipelines safer, while ensuring that planned projects as the Dakota Access Pipeline are built on schedule, while fulfilling all of the stringent safety requirements. This measure would protect the public, help the industry, and most importantly of all, safeguard our region’s natural resources.
America’s freight rail system has been described as “one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years.” Productivity has nearly doubled, energy efficiency has skyrocketed, and rates are nearly half of what they were in 1981. However, our region’s rail networks are facing challenges so far unprecedented in recent history.
The energy revolution occurring in the Midwest is currently unlocking vast amounts of resources, creating jobs, helping our manufacturing sector stay competitive, and making our country more energy independent. However, a large percentage of the energy currently produced is currently being transported to market by rail as rail capacity is squeezed. Demand for space on our region’s rails has simply not kept up with supply.
The stress placed on our rail system has caused unfortunate mistakes. Our region has seen the results of these accidents first hand. Moreover, our region’s rail infrastructure is facing the prospect of still further increases in volume and frequency of energy transports. Between February and March, Sioux City has recorded a nearly 100% jump in the amount of oil trains coming through the city of over 80,000, carrying around 1 million gallons of crude oil each.
While the oil trains keep rolling, our region’s farmers are left with the challenge of getting their products to market, with backlogs of nearly 1,000 trains waiting to ship grain and other products being recorded within the past year. A recent letter to BNSF shareholders stressed the “disappointment” they caused some of their customers by not being able to accommodate their shipments.
While our freight rail system continues to be an example for the rest of the world, we believe that diversifying our energy infrastructure will mutually benefit energy producers, farmers, and the general public. Proposed pipeline projects in our region, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline are the key to meeting these challenges. Oil pipelines have been and continue to be the safest means of transporting energy, while doing so for a fraction of the price.
Expanding our pipeline infrastructure will increase safety, reduce energy costs, benefit our region’s farmers all while reducing the strain on our region’s rail infrastructure.
Last week, a bipartisan group of Iowa lawmakers submitted a letter urging the Iowa Utilities Board to continue their review of the Dakota Access Pipeline project without imposing additional regulatory requirements. The lawmakers encouraged the board to proceed in the professional and unbiased manner for which the agency is known.
The Dakota Access Pipeline proposal is currently in the review process by the Iowa Utilities Board. The submittal of this proposal was preceded by meetings with landowners and the public, where the company, Dakota Access LLC, received input from various stakeholders including local community members. The approval process is fully independent of the Iowa legislature, removing any undue political influence. Governor Branstad has urged the legislature to allow the IUB process to run its course as well.
The MAIN Coalition applauds the determination of the lawmakers to maintain the agency’s independence in reviewing this and all applications. As the letter states, it’s vital that Iowa not become a state viewed by would-be investors as a landscape resistant to new development.
We believe that our region needs to continue to develop its energy infrastructure in a responsible manner. Our land is out most valuable resource, but it can be preserved and protected while still pursuing the important goal of energy independence. Ensuring that energy can flow safely and reliably to consumers will provide easier access to the investments that are so critical to growing our economy, and sustaining long term job growth.
It is our view that the Iowa Utilities Board has a responsibility to go through the all of the relevant data with care to evaluate the safety merits of this project. Construction of any pipeline is governed by numerous laws on the local, state, and federal level. Exhaustive surveys are conducted to ensure minimal impact to sensitive areas, cultural landmarks, and wells. The Dakota Access Pipeline is no exception.
We encourage the board to base its decision on the facts, and allow the regulatory system already in place to guide their decision making process. Let the merits of this investment be the deciding factor, and let’s keep rhetoric and talking points – and most of all, politics – as far away from the process as we can.
The full text of the letter has been published on IUB’s website here.