PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline project moved one step closer Tuesday morning to construction through South Dakota.
The state Public Utilities Commission accepted the adverse-weather plan that TC Energy — formerly known as TransCanada — needs to start work.
The company’s latest plan calls for construction of the South Dakota segment to begin in 2020, according to James Moore, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the project.
Speaking by phone, Moore told commissioners that construction “likely” would commence in the second quarter.
Several South Dakota Highway Patrol troopers hand-screened bags that people carried into the meeting room Tuesday at the Capitol. That hasn’t been normal practice.
No one from a tribal government or any other opposing group appeared to be in attendance.
The Legislature approved two sets of new laws in the 2019 session that Governor Kristi Noem signed.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe council officially banned Noem from the reservation afterward.
Several tribal governments and other organizations are fighting against water permits for the project that the South Dakota Water Management Board will consider later this year.
The pipeline would carry oil from tar-sands in Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing pipeline.
The 313 miles planned through western South Dakota would cross parts of Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties.
None of the route crosses official Indian reservation land, but all of western Dakota Territory was once designated the Great Sioux Reservation.
The seven pump stations along the South Dakota segment are planned in Harding, Meade, Haakon, Jones and Tripp counties.
The project originally received a South Dakota construction permit in 2010 from the commission. One of the conditions required the company file an adverse-weather plan at least two months before starting construction.
Moore said it was one of about 10 conditions that must be met. “We’re trying to start work on that list,” he said.
Kristen Edwards, a lawyer for the commission’s staff, said the company has volunteered to provide a third-party monitor.
Commissioner Chris Nelson said the third-party monitor worked well on the Dakota Access pipeline. “I’m certain it will make things work smoother from their (TC Energy) perspective,” he said.
Gary Hanson, the commission’s chairman, said the XL permit was granted in 2010 and the adverse-weather plan was filed nine years later. “It just seems dilatory to me,” Hanson said.
Nelson said the plan was “pretty light — pretty thin — in content” but said the lack of depth might reflect necessity, because it’s difficult to predict weather conditions.
Nelson cautioned the company that dealing with damage to agricultural land should be its highest priority if 2020 has wet conditions.
He recalled that TransCanada ran into difficulties on the first Keystone pipeline that was built down the James River valley a decade ago.
“I hope you all have learned from that experience,” Nelson said.