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10:50 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Proposed Pipeline Would Cut Across Iowa

Landowners in rural Keokuk County, Iowa discuss a proposed pipeline that would be built in some of their farmground.
Landowners in rural Keokuk County, Iowa discuss a proposed pipeline that would be built in some of their farmground.
Credit Clay Masters / IPR

 Business is booming in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oilfields. With that boom comes a need for infrastructure. More than half of the oil out of the Bakken leaves by train or truck.  But companies are working on pipelines.  One proposed pipeline would cut clear through the state of Iowa. 

A Texas company wants to build an 1,100 mile crude oil pipeline, from the northwest corner of the state to the southeast.  In two years, the pipeline could be carrying up to 320,000 barrels a day, from the Bakken Shale Oil Fields, to Patoka Illinois, and from there, the oil would be shipped to the east coast, or the Gulf. Iowa environmentalists are not happy about it.

Map of proposed pipeline through Iowa.
Map of proposed pipeline through Iowa.
Credit Omaha World Herald/Energy Transfer Partners

  Environmental activists marched this week in downtown Des Moines. They say the state should not enable the transfer of more fossil fuel, because it contributes to climate change. Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad won’t say whether or not he supports or opposes the pipeline plan, but he’s not ruling out the country’s needs for fossil fuels.

“We’re going to continue to have a need for fossil fuels,” Branstad said. “This is from the United States and that is really benefiting our country. Reducing our dependency on foreign oil is a very positive thing.”

Branstad still has questions about how Iowa farmland would be repaired after the pipeline’s built. He’s met with the company behind the plan; it’s called Energy Transfer Partners.

“It’s the appropriate time to start bringing additional infrastructure in there,” said company spokesperson Vicki Granado. “And certainly pipelines are the most efficient and the safest way in this country to transport natural gas and crude.”

Granado’s also trying to sell Iowans on the thousands of jobs she says building the pipeline would create.  And the company still has to win over thousands of landowners:

A couple dozen landowners gathered in a large machine shop in southeast Iowa’s rural Keokuk County.  They’re surrounded by tool benches and farm equipment.

Landowners have lots of questions, like what a pipeline would do to property values.  Pam Alexander worries about potential leaks.  She received a letter from the company asking for permission to survey her land.  She doesn’t plan to let them.

“I just don’t believe in pipelines, I don’t believe in this pipeline or the keystone pipeline, I think there’s better ways they can do this,” Alexander said. “Maybe not cheaper ways, but better ways.”

Independent energy economist Phil Verleger does not see much impact at all for Iowa. He says oil producers hope to benefit from a pipeline that will get their oil to refineries more cheaply, and hopefully bring them a higher price for their oil:   

“These will be designed to get the oil down to Houston and from Houston or from Louisiana,” Verleger said. “I am sure the plan is to load them on ships and send the oil abroad.”

The company still has to go through a lengthy approval process with the Iowa Utilities Board.  Right now, the State Attorney General’s Office is advising landowners to seek legal advice before committing to anything. Those letter-holding Iowans will have plenty of time to drill company official next month, when Energy Transfer Partners will hold public meetings in all 17 counties the pipeline would cross.