Emotions high as Bakken pipeline debated
(Pictures at end.)
BOONE, Ia. – Hundreds of people cheered, whistled, applauded and groaned Thursday as an exhaustive daylong public hearing kicked off deliberations on a proposed crude oil pipeline that would pass through 18 Iowa counties.
Emotions ran high among the roughly 450 people packed into the Community Building at the Boone County Fairgrounds to speak for and against the $3.8 billion Bakken pipeline project. Security was tight: 11 law enforcement officers were on hand, and bags were inspected as people entered the building.
Opponents warned the pipeline would damage Iowa’s environment, contribute to global climate change and represent an abuse of eminent domain to take prime farmland to build wealth for private business interests.
Supporters, including scores of union construction workers from Iowa and from other states, lauded the project. They said it would create 2,000 Iowa construction jobs as the pipeline is built, would represent the safest method of transporting crude oil, and would contribute to the nation’s energy independence.
Thursday’s hearing launched 11 days of debate scheduled before the Iowa Utilities Board on a request for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit by Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The project would transport up to 570,000 barrels of light sweet crude oil daily from the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields of North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill. It could then be shipped via another pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.
Ann Christenson, an Iowa City resident and a member of 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, said she fears that no amount of cleanup and money could undo the damage caused if the pipeline leaks oil.
“This issue is not a question of the safety of pipelines or rail. It is not a question of jobs. It is a question of an inhabitable world. It is a question of ‘we the people,’ ” Christenson said.
Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building & Construction Trades Council, conversely argued for the pipeline and the economic benefits it would provide for construction workers.
“These are good jobs” that pay well and provide benefits, he said. “Second, for safety reasons, it is really environmental malpractice not to ship oil through pipelines” as opposed to railroad tank cars or on trucks.
A total of 280 people registered to testify Thursday, although a few didn’t show, and a handful of others were allowed to talk at the end. Each speaker was allowed two minutes. The list of pipeline supporters primarily included union construction workers and some business interests like Deere & Co, which makes construction equipment. Pipeline opponents included Iowa farmers, environmentalists and community activists.
Ed Wiederstein, an Audubon resident and a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau who chairs the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now Coalition, urged approval of the pipeline plans. He said agriculture is highly dependent upon energy stability and the pipeline would help put Iowa and the nation on a path to a better energy future.
“We cannot simply turn off the use of oil overnight,” Wiederstein said.
Pipeline opponents had a much different view, and several critics of the project derided the Iowa Utilities Board, saying it’s an unelected and unaccountable board. They questioned the panel’s authority to make a decision on the pipeline permit.
Hugh Tweedy of Montrose, who owns farmland on the proposed pipeline route, drew cheers after he warned the project would desecrate precious soil and violate the rights of Iowa property owners through the use of eminent domain. He said state officials should never allow the Iowa flag and its motto of liberties to be “used for toilet paper” by business interests in Houston and Dallas.
Pipeline critic Carrie Fisher of Des Moines also urged rejection of the pipeline. “Our climate crisis is real and fossil fuels are a leading contributor. … Always remember, there are no jobs on a dead planet.” She was supported by Charles Crawley of Cedar Rapids, who used his testimony to play a guitar and sing a tune with the lyrics, “Bakken pipeline just say no. Dirty oil has got to go.”
The list of scheduled speakers at Thursday’s hearing included 134 people in favor, with 60 percent of them from outside of Iowa; 144 people in opposition, with 2 percent from outside of Iowa; and three people, all from Iowa, who were neutral.
The Utilities Board will reconvene Monday in Boone to begin a trial-like evidentiary hearing on the pipeline project. The three-member panel is expected to announce a decision on whether to approve the project sometime in December or early January.
Both sides held competing rallies prior to the hearing with about 100 people opposing the pipeline and about 100 supporting it. Pipeline foes wearing blue T-shirts chanted, “Dakota Access, let’s be clear: We don’t want your pipeline here.” Pipeline supporters, many wearing orange union shirts and jackets, heartily applauded speakers who praised the thousands of construction jobs offered by the project and emphasized it would help introduce young Iowans to the construction industry.
The pipeline would pass from the northwest to the southeast in Iowa. The route includes the following counties: Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Webster, Boone, Story, Polk, Jasper, Mahaska, Keokuk, Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, and Lee.
All of the proceedings on the pipeline project will be live streamed by the Iowa Utilities Board on the board’s website.
As people entered Thursday’s hearing, they were provided an informational sheet that explained that no firearms are allowed at the Boone County Fairgrounds, with or without a valid Iowa permit to carry, unless someone is authorized by the Fair Board as per Iowa Code.