Since December 1, hundreds of Iowans have turned out for a series of public meetings being held across Iowa by Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas company wanting to build a 1,100 mile pipeline to carry crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois. The $3.78 billion Dakota Access pipeline would transport 450,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, crossing 18 counties in Iowa. The 30-inch diameter underground pipeline would enter Iowa's northwest corner and exit the state's southeast corner, on its way to a redistribution point at Patoka, Illinois.
The pipeline would pass through 343 miles of Iowa, affecting thousands of farmers and other landowners. The Iowa Utilities Board is requiring Energy Transfer Partners to hold the public meetings. If the IUB approves the project, officials of Energy Transfer Partners say they want to begin constructing the pipeline in late 2015. More public meetings are being held this week:
• December 15: Sac Community Center in Sac City at 1 p.m.; Gates Memorial Auditorium in Nevada at 1 p.m.; Community Building at Boone County Fairgrounds in Boone at 6 p.m.; Calhoun County Expo Center in Rockwell City at 6 p.m.
• December 16: Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, on the East Campus in the Triton Room, at 9 a.m.; Bridge View Center in Ottumwa, at 9 a.m.
Some residents express support, but others are against it
At meetings held December 1 at Keokuk in the state's southeast corner, and December 4 at Newton and Ankeny in central Iowa, dozens of people at each meeting asked questions of the pipeline company representatives and Iowa Utilities Board officials. A lot of questions have to do with the safety and environmental impact of the pipeline once it is built. Although many landowners and residents at the meetings have spoken against the pipeline, there are some who express support, saying the project would create jobs and would give the U.S. added independence from foreign oil.
At the Ankeny meeting, the company, the Iowa Utilities Board and federal pipeline safety representatives provided information and answered questions from many of the approximately 250 people in attendance. The meeting lasted three hours.
Chuck Frey, an Energy Transfer Partners engineer, told the crowd that the company would be under intensive regulatory scrutiny both during construction of the pipeline and after it is built and operating. The oversight begins with the workers. They're tested "before construction begins" to ensure they are adequately skilled, says Frey. "Every weld that's made will be visibly inspected and then inspected by X-rays," he says. When the pipeline is connected it is filled with water under pressure that's on average a minimum of 25% higher than the pipeline will operate at with oil in it.
Pipeline company assures crowd that safety is top concern
Frey said safety is the pipeline developer's top concern and the company would shut off pipeline valves within seconds of noticing any pipeline abnormalities. Pipeline pressures and temperatures are monitored constantly, he said.
But residents and landowners who spoke up said they remain concerned about potential spills and how the pipeline company is prepared to respond. A lady from Polk County asked Frey what percentage of leaks the company catches with its intense monitoring system, "prior to the discovery of the leak by local residents." Frey responded, "I do not know the answer to that question."
When asked how much money the company has available to respond to a spill, Frey said the company is wholly responsible for a spill, as is a new partner in this project—Phillips 66. "We are liable for any damages," he said. Frey added that the company is heavily insured and a federal government fund to which oil companies contribute would help cover the damages.
Unions support the project because it provides construction jobs
Pipeline supporters are a diverse group, from advocates for increased energy independence to people seeking more jobs. Unions are supporting the project which will require thousands of construction jobs.
However, union members at the Ankeny meeting questioned whether the company really plans to hire Iowa workers for construction. Frey said the company has entered into an agreement with the labor union, committing to hire Iowans for at least 50% of the positions on work done in Iowa.
Energy Transfer Partners expects the project would provide 2,000 to 4,000 construction jobs in Iowa and 8,000 to 12,000 jobs for the entire 1,100 miles from North Dakota to southern Illinois. Once the pipeline is built, which would probably take at least a year and probably two years, there would be only 12 to 15 permanent jobs in Iowa (to manage and maintain the pipeline) and 30 to 40 permanent jobs overall for the entire 1,100 mile length of the pipeline.
Use of eminent domain to get access to land is big concern
Landowners and residents question whether the company should receive the right of eminent domain from the state, to force people to sell their land for the project.
The coalition opposing the Dakota Access pipeline in Iowa is similar to groups formed to battle the Keystone XL pipeline that's being proposed to run through Nebraska, says Susan Guy, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, a Des Moines faith-based environmental group. "We have a lot of farmers, private property owners and some county supervisors in Iowa who are probably conservative about a lot of issues but they are upset about the eminent domain issue this pipeline project is raising," says Guy. "People are mad about this pipeline for a number of reasons."
Landowners and residents at the meeting also asked officials whether Iowa would see any benefit from the pipeline project in terms of the oil it carries. Their concern is the oil would flow from North Dakota to Illinois and be distributed to other places in the U.S., and Iowa wouldn't get to use any of it. Frey said Iowa will benefit from the gasoline, diesel, asphalt and other oil products created from the Bakken oil's use of the pipeline.
Company could be required to conduct environmental study
When asked why Energy Transfer Partners hasn't completed an environmental impact study for the project, Frey said the company isn't required to do it. But, considering the number of questions being asked at these meetings concerning safety and the environment, Don Stursma, manager of safety and engineering for the Iowa Utilities Board, says the pipeline company could be required to conduct an environmental impact study before IUB decides whether or not to give the firm permission to build.
Energy Transfer Partners officials say their company expects to pay Iowa farmers nearly $200 million for easements for the land needed to bury the more than 300 miles of pipe through the state. Property owners, including farmers, can continue using the land, farming over the ground under which the pipeline is buried. However, farmers and other landowners cannot build permanent structures on top of the pipeline.
Bakken Oil Pipeline Resistance Coalition is formed
A broad-based coalition opposing this pipeline project in Iowa has been organized and is gaining members, says Angie Carter, an Iowa State University graduate student and board member of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network. "We are a growing coalition and we had over 250 people in attendance at our December 6 organizational meeting in Ames," she says. "We are committed to preventing the construction of the Bakken Pipeline, or the Dakota Access Pipeline Project, as it is also sometimes called."
Carter says the coalition consists of these groups: 100 Grannies for a Livable Future; 1,000 Friends of Iowa; Citizens' Climate Lobby (Ames Chapter and Des Moines Chapter); Drake Environmental Action League; Food and Water Watch; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Iowa Interfaith Power and Light; Iowa State University ActivUs; ISU Sustainable Ag Student Association; Science and Environmental Health Network; Sierra Club (Iowa Chapter); and the Women, Food & Agriculture Network.
Says Carter: "Our website is www.nobakken.com. Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/stopIAoilpipeline. Our twitter is @stopbakken." She says her group's website has information available and lists talking points about the proposed pipeline. The website also has questions to ask the Iowa Utilities Board, Energy Transfer Partners representatives and elected officials.