With the $2.1 billion pipeline slated to run through Hutchinson and Yankton counties, local questions arose over environmental concerns, property rights and safety. Audience members at the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing said the impact could last for generations.
TransCanada will make every effort to restore the affected land to good use, said L.A. "Buster" Gray, engineering and construction manager for the U.S. portion of the project.
"We do not make the statement that we will restore it to 100 percent," he said. "We bring it back to the level that is good for the environment, but we will not leave the impression that we will bring it back to exactly the same."
The 1,845-mile Keystone project is proposed to transport crude oil starting in Alberta, Canada, and ending in Illinois, with a possible extension to Oklahoma. The proposed pipeline in South Dakota has an estimated length of 220 miles to cross the counties of Marshall, Day, Clark, Beadle, Kingsbury, Miner, Hanson, McCook, Hutchinson and Yankton.
The project also includes four pump stations to be located in Day, Beadle, Miner and Hutchinson counties.
Mike Koski, the director of route selection for the Keystone project, said Yankton became a prime area for crossing the Missouri River.
"Yankton was the preferred reach of the river," he said. "It's narrow, it's stable and hasn't changed much over time, it's downstream from the dams and it already has two pipeline crossings."
TransCanada plans to ship 435,000 barrels of crude oil a day through a 30-inch pipe, but the shipment could expand to nearly 600,000 barrels a day. TransCanada is seeking a permit for construction in 2008 and seeks to operate the pipeline by2009, said Robert Jones, vice president of the project.
Jones emphasized the Keystone project is not tied to the possible location of an $8 billion oil refinery near Elk Point, even though the pipeline and refinery would come within miles of each other.
Audience members asked why the pipeline doesn't follow the Interstate-29 corridor. They said the move would be less disruptive, take advantage of current rights-of-way and use larger communities' fire departments and other first responders to take care of leaks and other emergencies.
TransCanada officials said the I-29 route carries its own problems.
Those issues include more than 100 interchanges in North and South Dakota, not including overpasses; safety concerns for workers and highway users; the need to frequently leave the right-of-way; the need still to go through private lands; and the hindrance to highway maintenance and expansion.
Once construction starts, about 350 to 450 workers would build about one to one- and-one-half miles of pipeline a day, affecting the typical landowner for eight to 12 weeks, Gray said.
Once completed, the pipeline would be filled with water and tested to 125 percent of maximum operating pressure under a procedure known as hydrostatic testing.
The pipeline is buried 48 inches below the ground and covered with epoxy coating. The pipeline can withstand temperatures of minus-40 degrees and contains a sulfur smell in case of a leak.
The pipeline is monitored round-the-clock at a Calgary control center with a dedicated leak detection system that can detect as little as a 2 percent leakage. The Keystone project can make a complete look of its system within a six to eight second cycle.
As part of Homeland Security, pipeline locations are not placed on the Internet, company officials said.
The pipeline wouldn't explode as it doesn't contain oxygen and has a very low flashpoint, TransCanada officials added.
The pumping stations have a noise level of about 55 decibels, the company officials said. They compared the noise level to a lawn tractor or secondary highway in the distance.
TransCanada officials said they would work with local officials and residents where possible to accommodate wildlife concerns, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage and anticipated construction of infrastructure.
TransCanada officials said they provide fair market value for easements. The company will cover three years of crop damage, paying 100 percent of the crop losses for the first year, 75 percent for the second year and 50 percent for the third year.
After the third year, the cropland is returned to productivity or the company is responsible for damages, officials said.
The easement agreements still brought concerns from audience members.
Hutchinson County farmer Oren Stahl, who lives near Freeman, said his land would lie a half-mile from a pumping station. His lawyer advised him against signing the agreement.
"The easement gives me no rights and gives them all the rights," Stahl said.
TransCanada officials told residents they would work on more clearly-worded easement agreements.
During a break in the meeting, Yankton resident Dave Spencer said he supports the pipeline. Spencer, who works in sales for Cenex, said he has visited the Canadian site of the oil and noted the proper safeguards would be in place for a pipeline.
Canada already serves as the greatest exporter of crude oil to the United States, which reduces reliance on the Middle East, Spencer said. As for the Keystone construction, Spencer noted the Yankton area already has two pipelines.
The reliable oil supply would provide a boon to the United States, Spencer said. "There is ample crude in Canada, and all that oil has a need for a home," he said.
PUC chairman Dusty Johnson stressed the PUC does not have the authority to re-route a pipeline proposal or act on a parcel-by-parcel basis.
Keystone documents will be placed on the Internet, and the public can comment without becoming formal parties to the legal proceedings, Johnson said. "You do not have to be an intervenor to have your voice heard," he said.
Monday's hearing represented the first step in a long process, Johnson said. "There will likely be another round of hearings. We won't make a decision today, this week or this month," he said.