PC op ed from Peter Rolnick of Iowa City Climate Advocates 10-15-2015

Time to make your voice heard on pipeline plan

Have you been wondering what’s happening with the proposed Bakken oil pipeline? I’ll tell you, but first some background. Energy Transfer Partners, a company headquartered in Texas, wants to build a pipeline to move crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to refineries in Illinois and points south. The pipeline would run diagonally through Iowa. Energy Transfer Partners is the parent company of Dakota Access, created to build the pipeline. After refining, the gas may be sold in the U.S. or exported overseas. Unlike the oil extracted by conventional oil wells, the oil in the Bakken fields, called bitumen, comes mixed with sand and clay, and is more difficult to extract. Processing bitumen produces 17 percent more greenhouse gas than processing an equal amount of conventional oil. Those who support the pipeline refer to the oil as “light, sweet crude;” those who oppose it refer to it as “dirty oil.” They are both right. Dakota Access must get permission from owners of every parcel where it wants to lay pipe. Currently, there are about 500 parcels whose owners refuse to grant permission.

If Dakota Access is to use those parcels, it must have the land condemned by eminent domain. There are also some owners who didn’t want to grant permission, but did so because they felt it was a lost cause and figured they’d do better financially if they agreed now rather than wait to have their land condemned. In order to build the pipeline, the project itself must be approved, and each of the parcels refusing permission must be condemned. Legally, those decisions fall to the Iowa Utilities Board: three people appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad — Geri Huser, Elizabeth Jacobs and Nick Wagner; one Democrat and two Republicans.

The key issue is that land cannot be condemned by eminent domain for private ownership unless doing so serves a public use or a public service — something the board must decide. Though many pros and cons have been gathered, the hearing preceding the decision starts Nov. 12. That day will be devoted to input from the public. In the days that follow, legal points will be argued and witnesses will be examined. All correspondence is available on the board’s website. Supporters say the pipeline is a public service because it provides jobs and energy for Iowans. They say it will be built safely, and that land and water will not be harmed. Estimates of temporary jobs range from 2,000 to 4,000. There would be about 50 permanent jobs.

Detractors say a major oil spill would be inevitable, that the use of tar sands oil is unconscionable in light of the climate change crisis, and that the harm to the land, even without a spill, is unacceptable. In the event of a spill, Dakota Access would be liable for only $250,000. Those opposed to the pipeline have argued an environmental impact study should be required; Dakota Access has opposed such a study and the board has supported it.

Letters to the board during the past months tell a tale. At first the cons outnumbered the pros, but lately there have been hundreds of letters per week in support, the latter mostly form-letters signed by members of various unions.

About 80 percent of these are from outside Iowa. This makes me wonder how many of those temporary jobs will go to Iowans. Many letters from places like Arkansas or Texas say things like “We’ll build this safely; after all, we live here too.” The vast majority of letters opposed are from Iowans and are individually written. In the next month or two, we will see this play out. Is the pipeline a done deal and the hearing just for show, or will the board carefully examine the evidence before deciding whether or not it is in the interest of most Iowans? If you wish to express your opinion, pro or con, you can contact the board at iub.iowa.gov. You can also go to the Boone County Fairgrounds Community Building, 1601 Industrial Park Road, in Boone at 9 a.m. on Nov. 12 and make a statement.

This is a time when your voice can be heard.

Peter Rolnick lives in Iowa City and is a member of Iowa City Climate Advocates

Peter Rolnick

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