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Pipe dreams leave some restless

LANKIN, N.D. - Terry Borgeson pointed to the sedate Forest River, which is almost bone-dry. "Don't let this fool you," he said. "During spring melt or after a heavy rain, it's roaring through here like crazy. You can't run fast enough to stay ahe...

LANKIN, N.D. - Terry Borgeson pointed to the sedate Forest River, which is almost bone-dry.

"Don't let this fool you," he said. "During spring melt or after a heavy rain, it's roaring through here like crazy. You can't run fast enough to stay ahead of the flow of the water."

His point is that the fast-flowing water could carry an oil spill that quickly would contaminate the Fordville Aquifer, which provides water for about 10,000 people. Although a proposed Keystone Pipeline route from Canada is 3½ miles from the western edge of the aquifer, there would be about a 200-foot elevation drop from the pipeline to the aquifer.

"With that slope, you can't stop it," Borgeson said. "If there's a major break, you'd have a half-hour or an hour to stop it. And that's if you knew about the spill at the moment it happened, which isn't likely."

Borgeson wants it clear that he's neutral on the issue of the Keystone Pipeline slicing underground through North Dakota.


His only complaint is that a 10-mile stretch of the pipeline's proposed location is too close to the water supply.

"I just want the aquifer protected," he said. "I'd make the same argument about a landfill or large hog operation that would be close and could contaminate it."

Jeff Rauh, project representative for Keystone Pipestone, disagrees with Borgeson. Rauh said there is no technical reason to change the route.

"For it (a spill) to happen would take an extremely, extremely low probability of an event followed quickly by other extremely low-probability events," he said. "And, even in the worse-case scenario of all those things happening, it's still manageable."

The project's environmental impact statement says that spills are rare. Keystone numbers state that its pipelines have a major spill 1.3 times every 10 years. Its figures also compute that the entire stretch through North Dakota shouldn't have a leak more than once every 42 years.

Those averages are computed over a time when the pipes and technology were of lower quality than they are today, Rauh said.

So, the odds of that happening in a specific area - and during a time of fast-flowing water - are astronomical, Rauh said.

"Also, crude is thick, like molasses, and isn't likely to travel a great distance," he said. "Even if it reaches an aquifer, it will stabilize and not spread, so it won't contaminate it as a whole. It will float on top of the water, and we have mechanisms that keep it from spreading."


Pocket of


What everyone can agree upon is that western Walsh County is one of the few areas in North Dakota where there's pronounced vocal opposition.

Based on testimony at hearings, the other place is the Fort Ransom area, with concerns about the potential pollution of the Sheyenne River.

In Walsh County, most critics own or rent farmland that the pipeline will cross underground. The main issue is the vulnerability of drinking water from the aquifer and shallow wells in an area with a high water table.

But water isn't the only issue.

"I don't think anybody is jumping up and down, overjoyed by this going through their land," said Brad Brummond, Walsh County extension agent. "If they're overjoyed at what a great deal it is for them, they aren't telling me.

"But some are resigned to the fact that it will go through no matter what they do."


Keystone is negotiating with landowners for easements to lay the pipe. Still, the bottom line is that the company doesn't need the permission of landowners if the North Dakota Public Service Commission grants a permit. With PSC approval, it can acquire the use of the land through eminent domain.

"I don't think the PSC should give power to a foreign entity to condemn our land," said Lankin landowner Mark A. Novak. "And fossil fuels are no longer our friends."

The PSC's decision, which could be conditional on pipeline relocation, is expected in December.

A federal decision on a permit will be issued in January by the State Department, which handles the Bush administration's foreign policy.

History - and the nation's need for imported oil - indicate that the pipeline won't be stopped. But that hasn't stopped some landowners in the Lankin-Dahlen-Park River area from trying.

More lines

to follow?

Janie and John Capp of Lankin said this line would be just the start. They emphasize that the history of pipelines is that they add more lines in the same corridor, causing future disruptions and increased risk.


That's the case in northwestern Minnesota, for example. Enbridge is proposing this year to add three more pipelines in an existing corridor. It will need an additional 75 feet of permanent easement for the expansion.

Merle Kratochvil of rural Lankin says older, retired farmers who rent their land are more likely to accept the easement payment.

"They're not as worried about the future," he said. "The other reason is that they're old school. That means they're used to believing what people tell them. They believe what the oil company people tell them."

Kratochvil isn't as trusting. He fears not only water and land contamination but also that his soils will be less productive after they're put back into place. He's wary of the loss of control over his land and the uncertainty of his liability if there's a problem.

Kratochvil said he won't sign an easement.

"My grandfather and father worked this land before I did, back to 1918," he said, "and I'd hate to see it go to pot."

The Park River City Council has passed a resolution that asks Keystone to consider moving the line away from the aquifer.

Otherwise, landowners feel frustrated that they're fending for themselves in this debate.


"The politicians won't touch it," Kratochvil said. "And it is hasn't rung a bell in Grand Forks or Fargo. A spill could reach the Red River, so you guys in Grand Forks might get a taste of oil, too."

Two-thirds sign

Joe Espelien of Park River is among the two-thirds of landowners in North Dakota who have signed easements.

"I don't want to hold back progress," Espelien said. "They paid a sensible price for it. I feel if they treat a guy right, it's the right thing to do."

Others, such as Lennart Almen of Park River, still are negotiating over details but expect to sign. "I think the price is fair," he said. "There are a couple things in the contract we want changed."

Keystone officials said the easement price depends upon the value of the land.

Almen and Espelien said the one-time payment for the 99-year lease over one-half mile stretch of land was in the neighborhood of $7,800. Crops can be grown over the top of pipeline, which is buried to a depth of 4 feet.

The easement is for a 50-foot permanent corridor, which is paid at full market value, plus 60 feet of temporary work space, which is paid at one-half of market value. Growers also will be compensated for crop losses at 100 percent for the construction year, 75 percent for the second year and 25 percent for the third year.


Other money

The land payments are a small portion of the monetary influx from the pipeline, according to Keystone estimates:

-- The company annually will pay more than $5 million a year in property taxes in North Dakota. In Walsh County, $600,000-plus in property taxes annually will be distributed among the county and affected townships and school districts. The taxes should lower others' taxes, provide more services, or both, county commissioner Allen Ruzicka said.

"Schools typically get 60 percent of the property taxes, but $200,000 sure would help the county government, too," said Ruzicka, who lives near Fordville. "But you also can't blame the people for their concerns. There's not much opinion about this in the other areas of the county."

-- Construction, expected to take seven months in North Dakota, will need about 1,000 workers, with 10 percent to 15 percent hired from in-state.

-- During their time in the state, workers will spend $3.5 million on food and lodging and $750,000 on construction supplies.

Why here?

Lankin-area residents wonder why the pipeline doesn't run along Interstate 29, where right of ways already exist, or in western North Dakota, where there are fewer people and lower-quality land. If it was in the west, it also could ship North Dakota oil to market, they say.

But, for cost and environmental reasons, Keystone wants to use its existing pipeline that runs west to east in Canada. The pipeline will enter North Dakota near Walhalla and then run south in almost a straight line. The I-29 corridor wasn't chosen because the traffic would cause construction delays and it's close to heavily populated areas, Keystone's Rauh said.

Jeff Izzo, a State Department official who works on international energy policy for the Bush administration, said the United States needs the extra oil because it consumes 22 million barrels a day. The Canadian oil will replace the reduced imports from Mexico and Venezuela, two of the United States' top four suppliers. Those two countries, along with Saudi Arabia, another top supplier, are uncertain partners, Izzo said. That leaves Canada as the most reliable source, he said.

"The bottom line is that this pipeline isn't because of a conspiracy of government and Big Oil," Izzo said. "It's because people consume this stuff with abandon."

Neil Romfo, a Cavalier County commissioner and farmer from Langdon, was one of the few North Dakota residents to speak favorably of the pipeline at state and federal hearings.

"There's a shortage of oil, so gas prices are high," Romfo said. "Oil prices also affect fertilizer and blacktop prices. So, we need it and why not get it from our friend, Canada?"

Back in Lankin, Kratochvil views it from a different perspective.

"Yes, we need oil," he said. "But between a quart of oil and a quart of water, which do you need most?"

Bakken reports on local news and writes a column. Reach him at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or rbakken@gfherald.com .

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