Pipeline hearings sign of our future?

Pipeline hearings sign of our future?
The communities up and down the I-29 corridor had been abuzz for months about a rumored massive industrial development project code-named Gorilla long before Hyperion, Inc., a Dallas-based oil company, announced recently that a sizeable portion of Union County is being considered as the site of a new oil refinery.

Going public with the news hasn't stopped the buzzing. In many ways, it has increased.

Print and television media from not only the region, but across the nation, have been filing story after story about the proposed project.

Citizens have been weighing in with their personal opinions, not only by the traditional route of writing letters to the editor, but also through today's high-tech ways of communication. Web sites, both opposed and in favor of the Gorilla project, are sprouting up like dandelions on a fertile lawn.

There was only so much that could be gleaned from a brief public meeting with media and curious citizens held by Hyperion and state officials in the Union County Courthouse June 13.

One thing is known for certain. Should it be decided that Union County will be the home to the refinery, it will launch a rather painstaking, complicated process of hearings involving a host of issues – land acquisition, easements, zoning, water use, drainage, environmental impacts – the list goes on and on.

Julianne Fisher, communications director for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD, said Hyperion had kept Johnson's office in the loop for a while before the announcement.

In a release, Johnson said he's always interested in new economic development but that many questions need to be answered, "including what the people of Union County think about this proposal and how it would affect their quality of life.

"As Americans require more energy, we know we need to look at all domestic sources of energy with ethanol, biodiesel and wind production leading the way."

Fisher said other concerns include how such a large project would affect air and water quality and other industries. She also said it looks like there will be additional federal incentives needed to build an oil refinery, including changes to federal law.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-SD, said she and her staff also were briefed.

"While the proposal has significant economic development potential for the region, local officials must be given an opportunity to examine the details thoroughly," she said.

To get an idea of what may be in store for our region, all we need to do is read about the concerns of people living in eastern South Dakota, including our neighbors who reside in Hutchinson and Yankton counties, who are contemplating the pros and cons of not a refinery, but an oil pipeline.

The Keystone pipeline is a plan by utility giant TransCanada, based in Calgary, to send 435,000 barrels of crude oil per day by 2009 under South Dakota. The oil would move through a 30-inch pipe pressurized at 1,400 pounds per square inch.

The length of the pipeline in South Dakota will be approximately 220 miles, and it will cross Marshall, Day, Clark, Beadle, Kingsbury, Miner, Hanson, McCook, Hutchinson and Yankton counties.

All of us living in Vermillion, Spink, Elk Point, Burbank and the rural areas around the proposed Gorilla project would do well to pay close attention as the Public Utilities Commission holds public hearings in communities that would be affected by the pipeline.

These meetings could serve as a primer to us, offering us a glimpse of what to expect in a few years should the Gorilla be built in Union County.

Despite reports to the contrary, it appears that Hyperion doesn't have plans to link up with the Keystone pipeline.

That can only mean the Gorilla project will need to develop its own pipeline system, to ship crude oil here, and to transport the refined fuels out.

Hopefully, some valuable lessons can be learned at the Keystone hearings. That knowledge may make all of the planning and paperwork that will surround the Gorilla project go down just a bit easier.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net.

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