Bakken pipeline supporters, foes speak out at Iowa DNR meeting

Jobs advocates, environmental critics make their cases

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DES MOINES — Iowans gave mixed reviews during a public meeting Wednesday to a proposed oil pipeline that would cut across the state — some favoring it and the jobs it would provide, others calling it an environmental threat to be rejected.

A crowd of nearly 100 people attended a sometimes raucous meeting held by Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials, who will decide whether to grant an environmental permit needed by the proposed Bakken oil pipeline to cross publicly owned land and water under state jurisdiction.

Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, has proposed an underground pipeline to transport about 450,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill. The Iowa segment would cross diagonally for 343 miles through 18 counties, from Lyon County in northwest Iowa through Lee County in southeast Iowa.

Included in the route would be crossings of publicly-owned lands and waters at the Big Sioux River and Big Sioux River Complex Wildlife Management Area, both in Lyon County; the Des Moines River in Boone County; and the Mississippi River in Lee County. Company officials say the pipeline would be tunneled under the Mississippi River into Illinois.

“All pipelines leak. I’m a geologist, I know this,” said Jack Troeger of Ames, an Iowa State University-trained scientist who questioned the logic of building a pipeline from a “dying” petroleum field at a time when oil is selling for just $36 a barrel. “Why build a pipeline to an oil field soon to be abandoned?”

But a number of union members who were on hand to counter opponents spoke in favor of a project they said would create jobs for people who would build the pipeline safely and properly.

“They’ve got a lot of money invested in this,” said J.D. Romanco, an Operating Engineers union member from Pleasantville. “They’re going to do it the right way.”

Emily Schettler of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry called the project “an important economic development opportunity” and a safer way to transport oil than by rail or truck.

But Wally Taylor of the Sierra Club of Iowa expressed environmental concerns for plant and butterfly species that might be impacted, and Bonnie Pitt of the League of Women Voters urged the DNR to consider Iowa’s lands and waters as finite resources, rather than commodities.

After a brief DNR presentation at the beginning of the two-hour meeting, the proceedings got off to a rocky start when organizers said two speakers would testify at separate tables simultaneously to accommodate the crowd, rather than allowing public speeches using microphones.

A number of people protested over the format. Jonas Magram of Fairfield broke from protocol by speaking directly to the crowd, declaring “this pipeline represents a threat to the environment” and urging DNR officials to reject a permit.

DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the two-speaker format was adopted because the agency wasn’t sure how many people would attend and wanted to be able to accommodate all speakers and record their comments. A transcript of Wednesday’s testimony will be produced and additional comments can be made until Jan. 5 by email at SLER@dnr.iowa.gov or sending written comments to the DNR’s Des Moines office.

DNR officials expect to make a decision on the permit application this winter.

The Iowa Utilities Board is conducting its own evaluation of the project and is expected to make a decision in February.

Vicki Granado, spokeswoman for Dakota Access, said that voluntary easements have been obtained on nearly 77 percent of the 1,274 tracts of Iowa land required for the pipeline.

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