South Dakota counties want to weigh in on permitting process for Dakota Access Pipeline

South Dakota counties that would be affected by a proposed pipeline to carry oil from western North Dakota to refineries in eastern states want to weigh in on the state's decision to approve the project.

Lincoln County became the second county this week to ask the Public Utilities Commission to be granted "party status" during the permit hearings for the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Argus Leader reported ( ). Party status allows an area city, county, governmental agency, nonprofit organization or individual to cross-examine witnesses and take part in the discovery process.

"We've got a lot of serious issues to work out, and we haven't gotten a lot of good answers," said Lincoln County Commissioner Jim Schmidt, who was among the 400 people to question company representatives at a public meeting in Sioux Falls last week.

The proposed 1,134-mile pipeline would stretch from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, with about one-fourth — or 274 miles — of the pipeline in eastern South Dakota. North Dakota's Pipeline Authority has said it would be the largest-capacity pipeline for the state's crude to date. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners wants it operating by the end of 2016.

Supporters tout the temporary construction jobs, tax money and an easing of pressure on the rail cars now carrying Bakken oil as reasons for approval, but opponents say the Texas-based company has ducked or dodged some difficult questions.

Some elected officials and landowners worry that the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline might harm land values and the environment. A pipeline oil spill in Montana that contaminated a river and a city's drinking water supply has added to fears about the proposed pipeline. Some residents fear a similar incident could occur with the Dakota Access Pipeline.

South Dakota regulators aren't expected to make a decision on a construction permit for the pipeline until later this year. When they do, South Dakota counties, lawyers representing Sioux Falls-area landowners and a water development association hope to have a say in the matter. The PUC has to approve all parties who apply for "party status."