The Dakota Access Pipeline is once again at the center of controversy: this time in downtown Chicago.
A proposal to double the amount of oil moving through the Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota to a small town in downstate Illinois has adamant supporters — and dramatic resistance.
The controlling owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, is petitioning for more pumping stations along the 1,100 mile pipeline that spans four states. The pumping stations could double the volume of oil going through the pipeline, which ends near Patoka, Illinois.
An evidentiary hearing at the Illinois Commerce Commission, a group appointed by the state’s governor, drew a coalition of environmental groups who want the ICC to deny the petition. The environmental group Extinction Rebellion staged a protest outside the hearings, calling it a funeral for Mother Earth.
Meanwhile, union members and supporters in bright orange shirts were there to support the jobs the proposal would create.
“It’s going to create great jobs,” said Randy Harris with the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “There’s already a pipeline there. We think this is a great opportunity for the state of Illinois to increase the tax base and job opportunities for our membership.”
The controversy has put the focus on the five commissioners of the ICC, who have to balance the interests of consumers and a competitive energy market to decide if the project is in the best interest of Illinois.
The Dakota Access pipeline has been operational since 2017 when President Trump signed an executive order for the controversial pipeline to move forward.
Protests against the building of Dakota Access started in 2016 when indigenous groups made the largely unknown infrastructure project a national story.
At around the same time, the citizen’s group Save Our Illinois Land (SOIL) formed in opposition to the risk of expanding pipeline infrastructure in Illinois. Now, along with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, SOIL has legally intervened in the ICC case to challenge the doubling of oil flow through the pipeline.
SOIL questions the safety of increased pressures in the pipeline and whether there is a need for expansion. They’ve presented written testimony from James Hansen, the former NASA climate scientist, who claims the pipeline proposal will expand greenhouse gas emissions.
A Dakota Access spokesperson wasn’t available for this report.
The ICC’s hearings give both sides a chance to cross examine expert witnesses. An administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the ICC commissioners, who are expected to decide the case later this spring.
Jerome McDonnell covers the environment and climate for WBEZ. You can follow him @JeromeMcDonnell.