Water permit hearing for Keystone XL extended into new year

A South Dakota board deciding whether to grant water permits for the Keystone XL pipeline will extend its hearing into the new year

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A South Dakota board deciding whether to grant water permits for the Keystone XL pipeline will extend its hearing into the new year after opponents repeatedly voiced concerns about the pipeline.

The state's Water Management Board met for four days this week as the hearing for a handful of permits stretched into its ninth day. The board also met in October and November. The board chairman said it will need more time to hear from everyone involved in the process. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended the board grant the permits, but environmental groups and many Native Americans tribes are opposed.

Opponents raised concerns about leaks like the one that occurred in North Dakota in November, the rights of Indian tribes being violated and rises in crime, including human trafficking, around labor camps connected to pipeline construction. They are arguing that the board must also consider if granting the permits is in the public interest for the people of South Dakota.

Keystone XL is planned to carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day in a 1,184-mile line from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. In Nebraska, it would connect with other lines that go to Gulf Coast Refineries.

TC Energy, the Canadian company building the pipeline, is applying for permits to tap the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers in South Dakota during construction. The water will be used for drilling to install pipe, build pump stations and control dust during construction. Two ranchers also applied for water permits to supply backup water to worker camps.

One of the most dramatic parts of the hearing came when one Native American witness from California described how she had been raped, trafficked and harassed by men who moved into her community to work in the cannabis industry. She attributed the attacks to a “ripple effect” of violence from a large influx of men.

Several activists pointed to studies that showed a rise in crime and human trafficking during the Bakken Oil Field boom in North Dakota and questioned TC Energy's witness on how crime will be mitigated.

Greg Tencer, an expert witness who is managing the pipeline construction, said the company works with law enforcement and hires additional security for the camps. He told the board there is a possibility with an increase in crime and said, “We're all human, so it's a factor.”

The project will be setting up several camps capable of housing up to 1,200 workers.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal president Rodney Bordeux testified at the hearing on Thursday and argued that the pipeline would violate treaties the tribe signed with the federal government at Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868.

The pipeline avoids any current tribal land, but does cross rivers upstream of reservations.

Sara Rabern, a spokesperson for TC Energy, said, “We understand that water is a valuable resource and that South Dakota has the responsibility to oversee this natural resource.”

Tencer said he plans to start construction in the summer.