An oil line that would cut through four Midwestern states and 50 counties — using, at times, eminent domain to do so — got the last state permit it needed Thursday. Now, only one federal permit remains for the Bakken Pipeline’s construction to happen.
After more than a year of review, the Iowa Utilities Board gave the green-light to the Bakken Pipeline, allowing the developer, Dakota Access, to build across 346 miles of mostly privately-owned Iowa farmland. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois have already awarded the right-of-way to this mega-infrastructure that will transport at least 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the oil-rich Bakken region in North Dakota to a market hub in Patoka, Illinois.
“We weighed the public benefit of the proposed … project against the private and public costs, and other determinations as established on the record,” said Boardmember Libby Jacobs. The board looked into safety, economic benefits, environmental concerns and landowners’ rights, too, she added before the three-member board unanimously approved the project.
The Iowa Sierra Club and the Private Property Rights Coalition said they will appeal the decision. Landowners dispute that Dakota Access provides a public benefit that warrants eminent domain powers.
“We still don’t believe that the eminent domain process is the correct process for taking farmland,” Keith Puntenney, a farmer and attorney who is representing other landowners, told ThinkProgress. By all accounts, the company has secured most private leases, and as recently as Wednesday it withdrew eminent domain applications on multiple Iowa parcels. Puntenney said about 250 Iowa landowners are holding out.
But the 1,168-mile long Bakken Pipeline, a piece of infrastructure comparable in length to the rejected Keystone XL, also crosses federal wetlands and waterways like the Mississippi River and the Missouri River — the longest river in North America. Hence, the Army Corps of Engineers has to issue a permit as well. That will happen once agencies assess possible harms to the environment, officials said. For the past several months three Army Corps of Engineers districts have been working on this verification, as they’ve received public comments.
A branch chief told ThinkProgress the agencies still have various steps to follow, but the developer can build on portions were the Corps doesn’t have jurisdiction. Meanwhile, “we are still coordinating with [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife [Service] on the endangered species,” said Ward Lenz, regulatory branch chief of the Rock Island Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is also consulting with Native American tribes along the route. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service draft report published in December says the Bakken Pipeline avoids “critical habitat.” Critics of the project have long worried about the ecological effects of the line since Dakota Access wasn’t required to submit formal environmental impact statements to the states.
“For this entire pipeline we have very, very little jurisdiction,” said Lenz, who couldn’t estimate on a time frame for the permit.
Yet no construction has started on the pipeline, said Vicki Anderson Granado, spokeswoman for Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. “That will take place when all the necessary permits have been secured,” Granado told ThinkProgress via email. Construction, however, has started on the gathering terminals in North Dakota.
The $3.7 billion Bakken Pipeline is one of many oil and gas lines proposed across the nation now raising concerns about the environmental and safety risks pipelines present. In this case, the dangers of oil spills were voiced from the beginning. This comes as U.S. pipelines spilled three times as much crude oil as trains from 2004 to 2012, according to a recent study by the International Energy Agency. However, pipeline incidents happened much less frequently than train accidents. Still, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported 314 “significant” incidents causing damages of more than $305 million, and 10 fatalities last year. In contrast, there were 252 incidents in 2012. Data shows an upward trend.
“There is certainly a danger of leaks or spills from the pipeline,” said Wallace Taylor, an attorney representing the Sierra Club, in an interview with ThinkProgress. “We are concerned about the impacts on the natural environment … and of course 86 percent of this pipeline will be over agricultural land.”
Dakota Access, for its part, has long said it will use a sophisticated 24-hour monitoring system that can detect small pressure changes, as well as shut-off valves that can be remotely activated if a leak happens. The company also said it will base personnel all along the pipeline for operation and maintenance.
As far as its justification for eminent domain powers, the company said it will create nearly 12,000 jobs — some 4,000 of them in Iowa — $1 billion in materials, millions in taxes, and $195 million in easement payments to landowners. All while freeing up rail capacity for crops and other commodities. Indeed, the recent boom in oil production means U.S. transportation networks are straining under pressures to safely and efficiently move oil.
Without the Bakken Pipeline, the company said in permit documents, some 750 rail cars would be needed daily to transport projected output. Instead, the project would represent a 50 to 60 percent drop in the number of trains transporting crude oil out of North Dakota, the company said.
Unions and workers in all four states have backed the project since it was proposed in 2014. In fact, an Iowa poll found that only 40 percent of adults are against the pipeline, the Des Moines Register reported this week. Fourteen percent are unsure, and 47 percent support it.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, for his part, has come out against the pipeline. And some in the Obama administration question whether building massive pipelines is the right course of action if the country wants to move away from fossil fuels.
“We have some 300 pipelines, it’s not as if we’re pipeline-less,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. “The reality is we will be pumping oil and gas for some years to come, but all of us, every country, needs to move as rapidly as feasible … to a low carbon footprint.”