PIERRE, S.D. — State regulators this week will consider whether to approve for the second time in just over five years construction through South Dakota of the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline, but it's unlikely a decision will come immediately.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hearing process is set to begin Monday and is scheduled to stretch until Aug. 4. The state initially authorized TransCanada Corp.'s project in 2010, but permits must be revisited if construction doesn't start within four years. The commission is now considering the firm's guarantee that it can complete the project while meeting the conditions of the 2010 approval.
Native American tribes, some landowners and environmental groups are opposing the pipeline because critics fear it could contaminate groundwater and contribute to pollution. Many state and local officials in Republican-dominated South Dakota argue pipelines are safer for transporting oil than trains and tout potential economic benefits to the state such as jobs and tax revenue.
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Chris Nelson said it's unlikely the panel will come to a final decision at the hearing. TransCanada will present its case first, and then opponents will offer their arguments and evidence, he said.
The panel's final decision can be appealed to the courts. Robin Martinez, an attorney with opposition group Dakota Rural Action, said the side that loses out "will certainly" file an appeal. He said the political realities in South Dakota lead him to think that the commission will allow the project to move forward.
South Dakota is one of several fronts where TransCanada is stalled in getting approval for the pipeline, which would go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It could also transport some crude from the Bakken oil field.
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The pipeline proposed in 2008 has not received the required approval from President Obama and is also delayed by a Nebraska court case from landowners who oppose it.
The project is routed through John Harter's property in Tripp County. Harter said there's no reason to risk water supplies to transport oil.
"I worked all my life for what I've got, and it ain't a lot," Harter said. "All I've got is my land to make a living. I don't appreciate my family being endangered for the profits of some greedy oil pipeline company."
Corey Goulet, TransCanada's president of Keystone Pipeline Projects, said the project will create construction jobs and spur about $20 million a year in tax revenue in South Dakota.
Sam Mickelson, whose Meade County land is part of the pipeline's proposed route, said he'd rather get energy from Canada than from a country that's not friendly toward the U.S.
"I'm in the farming business, so I know you can't build everything positively, 100 percent foolproof, but as long as they're doing the things to make it the safest pipeline, that shows me they're dealing in good faith," he said.