Rallies, protests begin Bakken pipeline hearing

Union workers voice support; protesters cite global warming concerns

BOONE — A turnstile of more than 200 people — by design, half in favor and half opposed — spoke in two-minute increments laying out the pros and cons of a proposal to build a Bakken crude oil pipeline through Iowa during a hearing Thursday before state regulators.

“This country is addicted to oil,” said Brett Pfeifer, of Brookline, Mo. “It is coming across and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It’s going to come by train or by truck, so let’s be good stewards of the land and do it in the safest way possible.”

A pipeline opponent shouted from the crowd, “Leave it in the ground.”

Groups rallied outside on a blustery morning, and then chanted as they moved inside. Hundreds packed the community building on the Boone County Fairgrounds for the public hearing.

The tone remained civil but erupted in emotion and shouts between speakers and audience members at points, with a bit of color mixed in as one speaker presented a specially written folk song about why the Bakken line shouldn’t be built, another gave a rap and another told a children’s story.

The three-member Iowa Utilities Board listened.

The board will decide whether to grant a hazardous liquid pipeline permit and permission to use eminent domain to acquire land en route to Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

The proposal calls for a 30-inch diameter underground pipeline to carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day for 1,134 miles from the Three Forks and Bakken production regions in North Dakota to a terminal in Patoka, Ill., where it will be shipped south to refineries.

In Iowa, the line would pass 343 miles through 18 counties from northwest to southeast, heading south of the Corridor. Boone was selected for the hearing because it is the midway point.


The hearing will continue Monday when the evidentiary portion begins. That is expected to last until Dec. 2.

The board has said it hopes to make a decision by December or early January.

The hearing begins days after President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposal with a larger national profile running from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Joye Braun, of Eagle Butte, S.D., came to the hearing after resisting the Keystone.

“We will stop the second snake from coming for our land,” Braun said. “Dakota Access is that second snake, and we are going to cut its head off.”

Union workers, mostly from out of state, made up all but a few of those speaking in favor. They argued the pipeline is a much safer way to transport oil than rail cars or trucks, the project will sustain careers and provide livable wages for middle-class workers such as pipe fitters, construction labor, boilermakers and others, and it will lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“Our stance is when you build safely and use highly trained workers in the industry, this will bring clean energy,” said Randy Harris of Springfield, Ill., a Midwest director for Laborers’ International Union of North America. “And this will employ 3,000 to 5,000 construction workers in the state of Iowa for 18 months, with health insurance and pensions.”

Dakota Access estimates it will spend $1.1 billion building the pipeline in Iowa, and $3.78 billion in total. It could generate $27.4 million annually in Iowa property taxes, the company said.

“I would venture to guess everyone speaking in favor has a personal financial interest or knows someone who does,” said Jonas Magram, of Fairfield. “None of us who are speaking against the pipeline have anything personal to gain.”

Opponents were coalition of farmers, environmentalists and private property advocates. They asserted the project would encourage more use of oil, which would contribute to climate change through emissions. It is too risky given the chance for an underground spill to go undetected. they said.


The workers could find similar work building infrastructure for renewable energy, such as wind or solar.

“It’s not a question of jobs, it’s a question of an inhabitable world,” Ann Christenson, of Iowa City and a member of the advocacy group 100 Grannies, said.

Eminent domain, which would allow Dakota Access to get an easement at market value even if a landowner didn’t want to sell, brought many others, who argued it would be an abuse of power to use eminent domain to take private land for the profit of a private company.

The hearing pit two groups — unions and environmentalists, often aligned under the Democratic Party — against each other.

Speakers alternated between praising each other and tossing jabs. One chided environmentalists for driving to the hearing rather than driving, and noted no cars have sails on them.

“It’s ironic, farmers are here when their pesticides and herbicides are leaking into our streams,” said Ron Kaminski, of Omaha. “Where is your opposition to those crimes?”

The hearing was run similar to a courtroom with utilities board Chair Geri Huser gaveling the hearing to order shortly after 9 a.m. She and fellow members sat on a raised stage at the front of the room. Attorneys representing the principle parties sat in the front rows, and hundreds of people packed the audience.

Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Dakota Access, listened in. She said an important detail that got little attention is that her employer has easement agreements for 74 percent of the tracts of land needed in Iowa, and is committed to work with the remaining 26 percent.

“Clearly people along the pipeline route are willing to work with us,” she said.


When asked why only labor voices spoke in favor, Granado said Dakota Access will present its case at the next phase of the hearing.

Nathan Malachowski, with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement who helped organize opposition, said he believed Iowans made their case against it.

“I think it is pretty clear where folks from Iowa stand,” he said. “We heard strong opinions from farmers and about water quality, but I am concerned the board has already made their decision.”

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