Iowa approves start of Bakken oil pipeline, but hurdles remain

Iowa approves start of Bakken oil pipeline, but hurdles remain

Landowner lawsuits and possible disruption of Native American tribal site raise questions.

The Iowa Utilities Board on June 6 gave permission for construction to start on the Bakken oil pipeline in Iowa. By a 2 to 1 vote the board approved a request by a Texas-based company, Dakota Access LLC, to begin digging on land outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which hasn’t yet granted permits for the pipeline to cross rivers.

READY TO GO: Iowa utility regulators on June 6 gave the green light for digging to begin on the Bakken oil pipeline in Iowa. Construction can now start on most of the 346-mile route that will slice diagonally through 18 Iowa counties, to deliver crude oil from North Dakota to a distribution point in Illinois.

The IUB’s decision accounts for all land except 37 miles in Iowa that still needs U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval and where other authorizations have been approved. Construction on the 1,150 mile project has already begun in Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota. Thus, the IUB’s approval means construction can now begin on the vast majority of the pipeline project, which in Iowa will primarily cross farmland.

The IUB gave the go ahead for construction to begin despite a complaint by the Sierra Club that the action by the board is illegal.

Army Corps of Engineers permits are expected to come soon

The vote to allow construction to get started in Iowa was 2 to 1, as board members Libby Jacobs and Nick Wagner voted in favor and chairwoman Geri Huser voted against. Huser had expressed concern last week about varying from conditions the IUB established in March, requiring all state and federal permits to be issued before pipeline construction could begin.

The IUB had approved plans in March for the 346-mile pipeline route in Iowa. But the start of the work has been held up since then by lack of federal permits, which are expected to be granted by the Army Corps of Engineers in coming weeks.

Is IUB’s decision to allow pipeline construction to start legal?

Wally Taylor, a lawyer for the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, filed a complaint Monday with the IUB, saying that the board doesn’t have jurisdiction to modify its March order to allow construction to begin without the federal permits. That’s because the board’s March ruling has been appealed by the Sierra Club to Polk County District Court, which now has jurisdiction, he said.

“The Iowa Utilities Board would be committing an illegal act if it allows construction to begin now, before authorization is obtained from the Corps of Engineers,” says Taylor.

Business and labor groups strongly urged IUB to let digging begin

The push for completion of the Bakken pipeline comes as many major fossil fuel projects across the U.S. have been shelved or significantly delayed because of new regulations, grassroots opposition and a decline in energy prices. When built, the 30-inch diameter Bakken pipeline will carry about 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The route will begin in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields and cut through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. It will end at a distribution hub at Patoka in southern Illinois, where the oil can be transported via another pipeline to the Gulf Coast or other markets.

Construction began last month on the $3.78 billion underground pipeline project in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. Iowa business and labor groups have been strongly urging state regulators to allow construction to begin in Iowa. An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 workers are expected to be employed on the Iowa section of the pipeline.

Pipeline still faces several lawsuits from property owners

The project is still facing several lawsuits from landowners who object to the use of eminent domain to secure access to farmland for the pipeline. A decision on the eminent domain issue could eventually be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Also, state, federal and tribal officials are studying whether the pipeline would disrupt a location of historical and cultural significance to the Sioux Indians in the Big Sioux Wildlife Management Area in northwest Iowa. John Doershuk, state archaeologist, says the pipeline route should avoid the site, which includes Native American graves. That raises questions whether a section of the pipeline must be rerouted in Lyon County.

Company plans to begin construction as soon as possible

Lisa Dillinger, a spokesperson for Dakota Access LLC, says the company plans to begin construction in appropriate areas as soon as possible. She says landowners have been properly notified to allow work to start immediately. The company hopes to have the pipeline in operation in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The company hasn’t yet released any details about exactly where the pipeline construction will begin in Iowa. Pipeline construction doesn’t usually start at one end and progress continuously, but instead it takes place in separate sections along the route and these multiple “spreads” are under construction at the same time.

Protesters gathered at the Iowa State Capitol on Monday

About 80 people gathered at a rally outside the Iowa Statehouse on Monday, June 6, protesting the Iowa Utilities Board’s decision to allow construction to begin on the Bakken pipeline in Iowa. Carrying signs and chanting, they expressed fears about damage caused by oil spills, continued use of fossil fuels and they voiced opposition to the use of the law of eminent domain by Dakota Access LLC, a private company, to gain access to land for the pipeline.

One of the protesters, Ed Fallon, a former state legislator from Des Moines, walked the entire route of the proposed pipeline last year. He says he has the names of 34 people including him who have pledged to commit nonviolent civil disobedience in an effort to stop the pipeline construction. He says efforts will continue to try to stop the pipeline through the courts and through the federal regulatory process.

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