The US Army Corps of Engineers, under a federal court order to reconsider its approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s Missouri River crossing, has issued a list of options including shutdown of the crude oil line, continued operation without change, continued operation with modifications, and a very extensive reroute.
The Corps did not say it preferred one of the alternatives, leaving that decision to a final EIS. The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was released Sept. 8, with public comments due by Nov. 13.
The 1,172-mile Dakota Access began carrying oil in June 2017 from Williston basin production areas of North Dakota to a pipeline hub at Patoka, Ill., where connecting lines can take the oil as far as the Gulf Coast. Operated by Energy Transfer LP, the 30-in OD line can now carry up to 750,000 b/d.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objected that the Missouri River crossing under Lake Oahe, a reservoir in North Dakota, threatened the tribe’s water supply downstream. A federal judge in 2020 ordered the Corps to come up with an EIS and vacated the easement granted by the Corps for the crossing, in 2021 an appellate court upheld the district court’s decision (OGJ Online, Feb. 1, 2021).
The very extensive draft EIS is divided into 35 documents available from the Corps. An executive summary lays out the options being considered by the Corps.
The first alternative is to refuse to grant a new easement for the pipeline. The pipeline crossing would have to be shut down, about 7,500 ft of pipe removed, and the disturbed area would need to be restored to pre-pipeline conditions, a task that would take at least 6 years, by Corps estimate.
The second alternative also is to refuse to grant a new easement, forcing a shutdown, and the pipe would be abandoned in place, a 1-year project.
Alternative 3 would grant the requested easement as earlier granted, except that the volume of oil allowed would increase to 1.1 million b/d. The original, vacated easement allowed 570,000 b/d.
Alternative 4 would grant the requested easement with additional conditions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate potential impacts of a crude oil release. The extra conditions would require plans for alternative drinking water supply and groundwater monitoring; new leak detection technology; visual surveys; surface water sampling; sediment sampling; fish tissue residue analyses; and more.
Alternative 5 would involve a reroute of Dakota Access. Because of uncertainty over what route might be selected, the Corps describes a route that serves as a proxy. It says that alternative route is 111 miles long, crossing the Missouri River about 8.5 miles upriver from Bismarck and about 38.5 miles upstream from the existing crossing. Federal, state, and local permits could take a minimum of 2 years to receive, by Corps estimate, assuming any such permits would be received at all.
Dakota Access view
Dakota Access LLC, owner of the line, has made its views known over the years of the dispute. It emphasizes that the pipeline does not cross Standing Rock Sioux Tribe land and that it is built to rigorous modern standards.
The pipeline company also notes that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has a new water inlet from the Missouri River that is about 70-75 miles downriver from the existing pipeline crossing, much farther downstream than the earlier inlet when the dispute began. Rail cars transporting crude oil currently cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation without objection, though rail transport is less safe than pipeline transport, the company says.
Environmental groups opposed to the pipeline ignore the safety benefits of the pipeline in order to further their membership and fundraising efforts through their vocal opposition, the company says.