A new 1,100-mile-long pipeline could be carrying oil through the Midwest as soon as the end of 2016, according to an announcement by a Texas-based oil company.
The Bakken Pipeline, which aims to ease the glut of oil in the booming Bakken region, will run from North Dakota to Pakota, Illinois, carrying 320,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Energy Transfer Partners announced the pipeline plans in a release on June 25, heralding the project as one that “not only supports the continued growth and production on the Bakken area, but does so in a cost effective and environmentally responsible manner by reducing the current utilization of rail and truck transportation as the predominant alternative to moving Bakken crude oil volumes to major U.S. markets.”
But in Iowa, a state that’s set to be bisected by the proposed pipeline, some residents — and even some elected officials — are just now finding out about the pipeline. The Des Moines Register ran an online story about the pipeline Thursday night, and Iowa’s Gazette published one soon after. It was by reading those stories that David Goodner, farm and environment organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), found out about the pipeline.
“I think it definitely caught everyone in Iowa completely off guard,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’s surprising in a democratic society — you’d think the public would be the first ones to hear about this, not the last.”
According to Energy Transfer Partners, residents along the potential route of the pipeline were sent notices from Energy Transfer Partners last week, letters that asked for the homeowners’ permission to survey their land. In order to build the pipeline on a homeowner’s property, the company would have to either gain access to the land through an easement or through eminent domain, a tactic that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said should only be used “in a very limited circumstance.”
But Gov. Branstad, too, told the Des Moines Register that he hadn’t heard about the pipeline before he read about it in the newspaper last week. The Governor, who supports the Keystone XL pipeline, hasn’t yet taken a position on the pipeline proposal, saying that he wants to “learn more about it” before he decides. Past proposed routes of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline do not pass through Iowa.
And Sen. Tom Harkin (D) said he was surprised when he found out about the pipeline proposal, though he too hasn’t yet taken a firm position on it, saying he wants to “see what it’s all about” first. He did push the importance of pipeline safety to reporters on Friday, though, as well as the need for Iowa to transition more toward renewable resources.
“We seem to be putting more and more money into the century-old resources of oil and coal rather than looking at the 21st and 22nd Century energy resources,” Harkin said. “We have to reduce our carbon footprint. The cheapest barrel of oil still is the barrel that you don’t burn.”
Safety is a major concern when shipping Bakken oil, which the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has found could be more flammable than other types of oil. The volatile nature of the oil makes shipping it by rail particularly dangerous, but there are still major concerns over transporting the oil by pipeline. Goodner said the issue of safety is one of the main reasons CCI has promised to organize against the pipeline. He said the pipeline’s proposed route “closely follows” the Des Moines River, which provides drinking water to 500,000 Iowans and is already heavily polluted by runoff from factory farms.
That risk of pollution is what Debbie Bunka, a resident of Ames, Iowa, which is outside of the pipeline’s proposed route, said worries her most. Bunka, who’s a member of CCI, said that already, Iowa residents can’t swim in many of the state’s lakes because they are too polluted, and that cleaning up a spill from agricultural land wouldn’t be easy.
“We’re already in trouble here environmentally and now they’re going to do this,” she said.
Energy Transfer Partners still needs to get approval from state agencies in Iowa and the other states the pipeline passes through in order to proceed with plans for the pipeline, and in Iowa, will need to hold public meetings in the 17 counties the pipeline will pass through. Goodner said he’s working to figure out the details of the approval process before CCI plans any action, but said the group is committed to fighting the pipeline throughout the process.
The Bakken pipeline is just one of the numerous projects besides Keystone XL that have been proposed and, in some cases, received approval in the U.S. in recent years. Last month, state regulators in North Dakota gave final approval to the Sandpiper Pipeline, a 616-mile project which will carry up to 225,000 barrels of Bakken oil each day from Tioga, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin. Especially in the booming Bakken region, more pipelines are likely on the way — North Dakota’s governor announced last month that the state plans to double its oil and gas pipeline capacity in just two years the next two years.