BISMARCK — A new phase in the expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline's oil capacity is complete, operators of the embattled North Dakota pipeline announced this week.

Energy Transfer, the parent company to Dakota Access, reported the development on its quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, Aug. 3, announcing that the pipeline has ramped up its carrying capacity to about 750,000 barrels a day — an increase of almost 50% from the volume of oil it has been able to carry since beginning operations in 2017.

The Texas-based company has been adding pump stations to scale up the pipeline's load to a total of more than 1.1 million barrels per day when the expansion project is complete.

Members of the North Dakota Public Service Commission approved the installation of a new pump station in Emmons County southeast of Bismarck to allow for the expansion following a marathon hearing in Linton in November of 2019 in which Energy Transfer butted heads with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Operations of Dakota Access have been vigorously opposed by members of Standing Rock since construction of the pipeline began near their reservation in south-central North Dakota in 2016. The tribe argues the pipeline's Missouri River crossing just off their reservation endangers their water supply.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"It's an outrage," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing Standing Rock in its legal challenge to Dakota Access operations. "They don't even have a permit to operate at all because the risks of an oil spill have never been studied. They are subject to ongoing federal enforcement over their many safety violations, and they have previously assured a federal court that the expansion would not occur until the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) has signed off on it."

And though Dakota Access opponents have been disappointed that President Joe Biden's administration so far declined to take action against the pipeline, Hasselman said circumstances changed in recent months, in part because of recent federal fines slapped on Energy Transfer for safety violations.

"And now we have the entity essentially snubbing its nose at the White House, all but taunting them," he said.

A five-year legal battle between Standing Rock and Energy Transfer over the pipeline's permit at the Missouri River crossing came to a close earlier this summer. A federal judge last summer revoked Dakota Access' permit at the river crossing, but the same judge said this May that the tribe's legal arguments did not meet the standard needed for him to order the pipeline to shut down.

The Army Corps is in the middle of an extensive environmental review of Dakota Access and its Missouri River crossing near the Standing Rock reservation to determine whether the pipeline's permit will be returned.

The Biden administration and Army Corps have declined to shut the pipeline down, though they have not ruled out enforcement actions. Standing Rock leadership has continued to call on the White House to intervene and recently cited a federal agency's intention to fine Energy Transfer over safety violations as further justification for a shutdown.

The expansion project is part of the agency's environmental assessment. That's slated for completion in March of 2022, but the Army Corps recently indicated it is considering an extension on that timeline following requests from the tribes.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said Bakken oil producers are already using a portion of the incremental capacity increase in Dakota Access, adding new pipeline space will likely prompt some shift from rail transport to the pipeline. The vast majority of North Dakota's oil is carried to market by pipeline, but Kringstad said trains transport around 200,000 barrels per day.

Dakota Access carries oil from northwestern North Dakota to Illinois, and the pipeline cleared its last regulatory hurdle for the expansion project after receiving a greenlight from Illinois regulators last fall. The company said it expects the full expansion to be complete by the end of this year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillsi@forumcomm.com.