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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published June 07 2013

Trees planted to hush pipeline pump noise in ND

BISMARCK — A Canadian pipeline company is planting more than 100 mature spruce trees around a pump station in southeastern North Dakota to help hush noise at the facility and quiet complaints from nearby residents.

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. said the tree-planting project began this week along the Keystone pipeline near Fort Ransom, a town of about 80 people, 60 miles southwest of Fargo. The work is slated to be completed in a few days, the company said.

The Keystone has been operating for three years and transports crude oil from tar sands near Hardisty, Alberta, across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, on the way to refineries Patoka, Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline is separate from the company's controversial Keystone XL pipeline that still needs the Obama administration's approval to proceed.

The Keystone pump station that contains four, 5,000-horsepower electric turbines has been operating lower than the permitted 55-decibel level since it came on line, according to the company and state regulators. But Bruce Pantzke, who owns a farm less than a mile from the Keystone pump station, said it emits a sound that's like “fingernails on a chalkboard.”

Not all sound is the same, he said.

“There is a lot of difference between 55 decibels of soothing elevator music and the whine off those turbines,” he said.

Pantzke said there are 18 homes within three miles of the pump station. The facility also is within a few miles of two state parks.

“It's not something you grow used to and you can't sleep with the windows open when that thing is going,” Pantzke said of the high-pitched whine from the turbines. “A lot of the neighbors are getting more irritated and sensitive to it every day.”

Pantzke said the tree buffer might help hush the noise but he and other residents would rather see the pump station enclosed with sound-deadening insulation.

“We are doing everything we can reasonably do — there is never going to be absolute quiet,” said Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman in Calgary. “To completely enclose one site would cost millions of dollars that would be passed along to the cost of the product we transport.”

Building a structure to enclose the pump station also could spur “aesthetic issues that others might not appreciate,” Howard said.

Pantzke, who lives closest to the pump station, has been among its most vocal critics. He and other residents have written letters to the editors of several North Dakota newspapers complaining about the noise problem.

The company said it hired an independent noise monitoring expert who set up equipment at the Pantzke's property, about a mile from the pump station.

“This expert had a hard time even detecting noise from our facility at that distance,” Howard said. “During some of the testing, a coyote howling was more discernible.”

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she and fellow commissioner Randy Christmann have been to the pump station site to get a first-hand look at the noise issue.

The commission's duties include regulating coal mining, land reclamation, pipelines and electric and gas utilities. A big part of its recent work has been determining locations for oil and natural gas pipelines that are needed to keep pace with North Dakota's booming energy industry.

Fedorchak said on the day she visited the site it was windy and she could hear the pump station from Pantzke's property but it wasn't “super loud.” She said it's important for regulators and companies to do everything possible for peace and quiet.

“We hold our quality of life in North Dakota near and dear,” she said. “I believe the company has been coming up with methods to do what is needed and to do what's right.”

For its sound-buffering project, TransCanada purchased some 110, 6-foot tall spruce trees from a local nursery at a cost of about $40,000, Howard said. The company also is attempting to acquire additional easements to plant more trees in the area.

Howard said there are no “scientific studies” to indicate how much the trees will reduce the noise, if at all.

The company also has spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars to enhance the insulation around some of the pipes at this facility, which has helped reduce noise to some degree,” Howard said.

There are four other pump stations in North Dakota and a total of 25 located along the pipeline's route through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, Howard said.

“We are not dealing with any other active noise issues with any of these other facilities,” he said.

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