Iowa oil pipeline meetings start today

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP has arranged meetings at locations in 18 affected Iowa counties

DES MOINES — Iowa landowners in the path of a planned oil pipeline will get their first face-to-face meetings this month with Texas oil company officials seeking permission to route the underground conduit from North Dakota to Illinois through their properties.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP has arranged meetings at locations in 18 affected Iowa counties beginning Monday to present information about the 343 miles of 30-inch-diameter transmission pipeline that will be needed to eventually move up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota diagonally across Iowa to a regional hub in Illinois once the project is completed in 2016.

“The purpose of the meetings is for us to talk about the pipeline, where we are in the stage of the process and what comes next in this process and then to have a Q-AND-A session for people to ask questions,” said Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado. “We want to make sure that we get the correct information out about the project and that we’re there then to answer any questions or concerns.”

The information meetings are the beginning phase of a lengthy Iowa Utilities Board approval process. If all goes well, Granado said company officials would petition state regulators for a permit in the first quarter of 2015 to proceed with the “Dakota Access” project that a company-paid analysis estimated would generate nearly $1.1 billion in economic benefits and thousands of construction jobs for Iowa.

That financial analysis prepared by West Des Moines-based Strategic Economics Group projected that during construction of the project, Iowa landowners will receive about $60 million in “easement and damages” payments for the restoration and use of their rights of way.

The potential for 7,600 jobs in Iowa for a year during the project’s construction has generated support from labor groups, but a coalition of environmentalists, farmers and landowners is opposing the project. Opponents petitioned Gov. Terry Branstad to block the project, but the Republican governor — who has backed the Keystone XL pipeline in states west of Iowa — says the issue should be decided by his appointees on the Iowa Utilities Board.

“The Iowa Constitution gives the governor executive authority on a host of issues,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said. “In this case, the governor believes Iowans deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard on the matter and wouldn’t step in before citizens were able to learn more.

“Ultimately, the Iowa Utilities Board, not the governor, will decide the fate of the proposed pipeline,” he added. “The governor has confidence in the board’s ability to make a thoughtful decision on the proposed pipeline.”

Ed Fallon, an environmental activist who served in the Iowa House and ran unsuccessful bids for Congress and governor, said quality of life for many Iowans is what’s at stake with the proposed pipeline that he and other opponents are trying to stop.

“It’s not a question of rail or pipe. It’s a question of renewable or fossil fuel. That’s where the debate should be, and we need to reject any more expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure if we’re going to get a handle on the climate monster,” Fallon said.

“This pipeline is actually worse than what Keystone wants to do in Nebraska,” he added. “It cuts a much wider swath through Iowa, through great farm land, and it ought to be opposed by more than just the people whose immediate land is affected.”

Fallon said the Dakota Access project is bringing together some “strange bedfellows” with labor unions, businesses and others joining with Energy Transfer Partners to support the project, while he is crossing the political aisle with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who opposes using eminent domain — government authority to take private property for public use in exchange for payment of fair market value — to acquire easements on properties.

“Iowa is becoming a property rights battleground,” Kaufmann said.

“There are just so many circumstances where eminent domain is being used so freely, and it just needs to stop,” he added. “I get that there are times when eminent domain is needed, but I believe that that is being egregiously abused, and I do not support eminent domain being used for the Bakken pipeline.”

Granado said Energy Transfer Partners views eminent domain as “a method of last resort.”

“We would much rather come to agreement with the individual landowner. We are very good at doing that. We have done that very successfully on most of our other pipeline projects,” she said.

Thousands of property owners in Iowa already have received letters from the company seeking permission to conduct surveys for the underground pipeline. Under Iowa Utilities Board procedures, the company can’t begin negotiating with residents to pay for land access until after the informational meetings scheduled in December.

Rob Hillesland, a spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, said the meetings are not public hearings — those come later in the process for anyone to provide comments or objections. Rather, they are meetings separate from the regulatory process where landowners will be informed of their legal rights and the company will explain its proposed project, he said.

An Utilities Board representative is required to oversee the meetings and also will provide information about Iowa’s pipeline petition process, Hillesland added. “There are no court reporters or recordings made of informational meetings and no formal comments received by the Iowa Utilities Board. By law, a petition for pipeline permit cannot be filed with the Iowa Utilities Board until at least 30 days after the last informational meeting has been conducted.”