Arlene Bates’ Story County farm field has a noticeable depression where the Dakota Access Pipeline is buried.
The ground was wet when bulldozers and other heavy machinery used to install the pipeline rolled back and forth over the once-fertile soil. The land became compacted and the soil composition forever altered because of how the dirt that was dug up was put back.
“That ground is damaged for the rest of my lifetime and the rest of my daughters’ lifetime,” said Bates. “No amount of money is worth what they did to this ground.”
It is difficult for crops to take root, she said. Some plants simply die while others never grow to full size. Plus, the compacted soil creates an underground dam that exacerbates flooding when it rains. Bates and her family own approximately 2,000 acres in Story County, about 120 of it in an easement for the pipeline.
Last year, Bates said, they lost
60 percent to 70 percent of the corn yield, and 50 percent this year. In one field, the ground was so muddy, they had to sacrifice the bottom of soybean plants because, if they lowered the harvester to the bottom of the stalk, the machine would get stuck.
It’s been a year-and-a-half since Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, installed and began pumping sweet crude oil through the $3.8 billion pipeline, but anger from several landowners remains palpable. Landowners such as Bates and her brother, Leonard Larson, say damage to the land has been as bad as predicted, if not worse.
Bates and Larson granted right of way on their land for other purposes, but they see no benefit from the pipeline.
“We didn’t resist electric lines, we didn’t resist roads or natural gas lines,” Larson said. “They all benefit me, my friends, and my neighbors. This pipeline didn’t change anyone’s lifestyle in the whole United States.”
Approximately 60 percent of the oil carried by Dakota Access has been delivered to markets along the Gulf Coast and 40 percent to other refining markets across the United States via the hub at Patoka, Ill., according to Dakota Access spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger. That does not include oil that remains in the company’s six new terminal sites in North Dakota, she said.
Dillinger added that Dakota Access does not own the oil nor does it control its destination. The pipeline is a delivery service for shippers, similar to FedEx, she said.
Commercial operation of the pipeline began on June 1, 2017, and has not had any interruption of service, Dillinger said. The pipeline has averaged 473,000 barrels per day of crude oil during the second quarter of 2018, with some peaks of more than 500,000 barrels per day, she said.
Dakota Access is seeking to expand shipping to 570,000 barrels per day, which would require minimal asset modification and no additional right of way, she said. The company has eight full-time employees in Iowa, she added.
The 1,172-mile pipeline transports oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, before ending at a distribution hub in Patoka, Ill. In Iowa, the pipeline passes diagonally through 18 counties — from the northwest corner in Lyon County to the southeast corner in Keokuk County.
The Iowa Utility Board in 2016 granted a permit for a hazardous liquid pipeline and allowed the private company authority to use eminent domain to condemn land from landowners unwilling to sell. The board found the pipeline “promoted public convenience and necessity,” which is the agency’s threshold for allowing eminent domain.
Protesters resisted before and after the decision in Iowa, including staging a demonstration on the Des Moines River in central Iowa. An encampment near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota drew thousands of protesters and brought the national spotlight to the cause.
Opponents resisted on environmental grounds, contending a spill could be disastrous and could infiltrate water supplies as well as have other negative impacts on the environment. Others opposed on landowner rights’ grounds.
Trade unions were largely supportive for the temporary jobs it could mean. Dakota Access contended the pipeline was a safer and more environmentally friendly way to transport oil compared to truck or rail.
Since the pipeline began flowing there have been a few minor spills, including 84 gallons in Watford City, N.D., in 2017. But authorities say they caused minimal damage, news outlets have reported.
Keith Puntenney is among those who never granted an easement and whose land in Webster County was condemned.
Several landowners, including Puntenney, have sued Dakota Access and the Iowa Utilities Board, contending the pipeline is trespassing on their land because the state utilities board should not have granted eminent domain; they seek a reversal of the board’s decision in granting the permit. The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit.
The case lost at the district court level and has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which has yet to rule.
Among the arguments, Puntenney said the pipeline does not have a public use in Iowa, which Iowa Code requires for eminent domain. Iowa has no oil fields and the oil simply passes through Iowa with no direct purpose for Iowans, he said.
“The pipeline has no on ramp or off ramp,” he said. “There’s no benefit for Iowans.”
During a hearing in September, Justice Brent Appel noted a case could be made that public use could require a direct impact in Iowa.
Dakota Access contends the company complied with Iowa Utility Board requirements, and the project was approved by numerous state regulatory agencies and federal permitting authorities, so the case has no merit.
But Puntenney is optimistic about the case. He said his land has been damaged much the same as has Bates’, and Dakota Access has been difficult to work with in getting repairs.
“Our fields are 30 miles apart, and we have the same crop loss,” said son Matt Puntenney, 35, who helps manage his family’s farmland.
Heat maps produced via drones clearly delineate a yield drop-off in the easement.
Dakota Access had agreed to cover 100 percent of the crop loss the first year in 2016, 50 percent the second year and 20 percent to 30 percent the third year, he said. Work began on the pipeline in 2016.
When the pipeline was installed, the Putenneys said underground drainage tiles were damaged and never properly fixed.
A berm that helped prevent erosion was removed and not fixed, they said.
It has led to flooding and “sheet erosion” where the topsoil washes off the field, they said. They are keeping tabs on the cost of the damages, including $36,000 to put in new tiling on a 2.5 acre segment. But it is not clear if that money will be reimbursed.
“When it rains, it is a river in here,” Keith Puntenney said.
Dick Lamb, 75, who owns a 300-acre farm in Boone County along Highway 30 and also is part of the lawsuit, has similar complaints as Bates and Puntenney, with compaction, irreparable damage to soil structure, and damage to drain tiles. He has a semi trailer declaring “stop eminent domain abuse” on the edge of his farmland.
His land has been compromised in other ways as well.
While adjacent properties have been sold for commercial development, the pipeline has hurt his chances to sell for commercial use, he said.
“It certainly looks as if our land would be valuable outside of its worth for farming,” he said. “They destroyed that potential.”
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