Although construction of the controversial Bakken oil pipeline is underway in Iowa, opponents of the project say they remain hopeful it can be stopped.
In June the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) gave final approval for the Iowa portion of the pipeline to be built. Crews immediately began moving dirt and clearing land for the 346- mile underground pipeline to enter Iowa’s northwest corner and exit the southeast corner, cutting diagonally through the state. A multistate project, the 30-inch diameter pipeline is being built to carry crude oil 1,150 miles from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill.
Construction on the $3.78 billion project started in May in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. Iowa was the last state to approve it, and the pipeline still faces several lawsuits filed by property owners who object to the use of eminent domain to secure access to farmland. A decision on the eminent domain issue could ultimately be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court. The owner/builder of the pipeline is Dakota Access LLC, a Texas-based company.
Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue needed permits
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue permits for the portion of the pipeline under the Corps’ regulatory jurisdiction. The Corps has regulatory responsibility for about 3% of the entire project. For example, permission is needed from the Corps in areas where the pipeline has to cross rivers.
The pipeline is being built in sections at various locations in each state, rather than starting at one end and proceeding continuously across the state until finished. Construction has begun in Jefferson County in southeast Iowa. With some areas still awaiting permits, the work in the county so far looks spotty. Crews have been digging under creeks and roadways in the northwest part of the county.
Pipeline vs. private property rights, eminent domain issues
The Iowa Utilities Board is now facing several legal actions. Several lawsuits have been filed against the IUB by landowners who object to the use of eminent domain to secure access to farmland for the pipeline. “These eminent domain issues are a judicial ‘hot potato’ as each district court judge knows whatever his eventual decision is, it will be appealed to a higher court,” says LaVerne Johnson, a Boone County farmer involved in several of these lawsuits.
He adds, “We landowners who are fighting this proposed pipeline have come to a conclusion. We are joining together and proceeding up the legal chain to continue our fight, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary to defend our private property rights. We have faith we will prevail in our fight to protect our property rights.”
Opponents of pipeline have reason to believe they can stop it
Former Iowa legislator Ed Fallon, a foe of the pipeline, says opponents of the project have plenty of reason to believe they can stop it. He walked the entire 346-mile Iowa route last year to call attention to environmental concerns about the project.
“Other pipeline projects have seen construction begin and eventually they were defeated,” says Fallon. “The pipeline is not done until oil starts flowing through the pipe and we’re a long way from that. Some landowners, who don’t want this pipeline crossing their land, and other opponents of the pipeline, are getting discouraged. But I tell them there’s no reason to give up.”
Organized protests beginning to take place, more are planned
Beginning July 19 a group of youth from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation will run through Iowa as part of their 1,500-plus mile protest of the pipeline. The North Dakota group of 31 runners is scheduled to end their journey by protesting at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Washington, D.C. Also, some Iowa groups who oppose the project say they are planning to continue their protests.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is organizing civil disobedience protests which leaders of the organization say will take place if the pipeline work continues. The ICCI leaders say the demonstrations are still weeks or maybe a month or more away. They say ICCI won’t conduct the protests until landowners’ options are exhausted and their land is condemned through eminent domain.
Some pipe is already in the ground in Iowa’s southeast corner
In Lee County in Iowa’s southeast corner, about five miles of pipe has already been laid in the ground, says Ryan Denner, project manager with Chippewah Resources. Work began there in June. His firm was hired by the county to inspect the pipeline work.
In the opposite corner of the state, crews of workers are now moving in to begin work. There, in Sioux County in northwest Iowa, workers have begun securing pipeline easements. Where easements are obtained, crews are cutting a 150-foot width path through corn and soybean fields. While workers, trucks and equipment are on the scene, they haven’t begun installing pipe yet, says Doug Julius, Sioux County engineer.
Construction has begun only where there are signed easements
Lisa Dillinger, spokeswoman for Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas, says workers in southeast Iowa have begun putting together sections of pipe and welding them. Construction has only started where the company has signed easement agreements. Pipeline work across the states involved in this project will not proceed in a linear fashion, she explains. Instead, the pipeline construction will be performed in multiple “spreads” or sections along the route. Each of these sections will have as many as 800 construction workers. At its peak, Iowa’s portion of the pipeline project is expected to employ 2,000 to 4,000 construction workers.
Central Iowa hasn’t seen much pipeline work yet, says Scott Kruse, Boone county engineer. The crew scheduled for Boone County must first finish their work in Illinois. Officials of Pipeline Union Local 798 say most of its welders are still working in North Dakota and South Dakota, but will come to Iowa soon. The Oklahoma-based union represents 2,700 skilled welders and 500 journeymen. Its crews will weld the pipe and leave it on the ground. Other workers will come and bury it. Union official Terry Langley says within the next 30 to 40 days, workers will likely be laying pipe in central Iowa.