Dakota Access Tree Replacement Lags Deadlines

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline missed a year-end deadline to plant thousands of trees along the pipeline corridor in North Dakota, but the company said it was still complying with the terms of a settlement.

The agreement between North Dakota's Public Service Commission (PSC) and Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) settled allegations that it removed too many trees in some areas during the $3.8 billion construction project. The agreement required that ETP provide an additional 20,000 trees to county soil conservation districts along the pipeline's 359-mile route across the state.

Only about 8,800 of the trees were planted in 2018 through the districts due to several factors, including equipment and staffing issues, difficulties finding willing landowners and poor planting conditions, according to Perennial Environmental Services, which ETP hired to handle the work.

In one example, a soil conservation district refused to participate because it didn't feel any of the 15 tree species identified in the settlement agreement were suitable for the county.

Company attorney Lawrence Bender recently submitted a report from contractor KC Harvey Environmental with additional detail of the replanting efforts, noting that in some areas where landowners refused trees, the trees were reallocated to other landowners "who had the space and desire to accommodate more plantings."

ETP filed documents in October detailing Perennial's efforts to plant 141,000 trees and shrubs, and the state asked for more documentation of its compliance with all settlement terms.Soil conservation districts in six counties have committed to planting about 16,800 more trees in 2019, for a total of more than 25,500, according to Perennial.

Bender in December detailed training that he said surpassed what was required during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May, the North Dakota Petroleum Council annual meeting in September and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual meeting in November.

Under the agreement, ETP also was directed to develop an industry handbook on properly handling pipeline route adjustments and to conduct training. In return, the state PSC didn't require the company to admit wrongdoing and scrapped a proposed $15,000 penalty. The agency has the power to levy up to $200,000 in fines.

In addition to tree clearing for the project, the agreement also settled allegations that ETP improperly handled a route change after discovering Native American artifacts. The artifacts were not disturbed.

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