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Proposed oil pipeline faces regulatory hurdles

Published: Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 11:21 a.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — A Texas company seeking to run an underground oil pipeline through Iowa has a laborious approval process to get through before they can start digging.

Energy Transfer Partners LP is behind the proposed project, which would carry crude oil 1,100 miles from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, traveling diagonally through roughly 17 Iowa counties along the way. The pipeline would use a 30-inch diameter pipe to carry at least 320,000 barrels a day.

The pipeline would cut between Ames and Ankeny and toward Keokuk in the state’s southeast corner, then cross the Mississippi River to its destination in Patoka, Illinois, about 70 miles east of St. Louis.

The company says the pipeline would allow them to transport oil more safely than by trucks or rail, but environmental activists are already aggressively campaigning against the project and calling on Republican Gov. Terry Branstad to oppose it.

“Our position is that there’s no pipeline plan that can pass the bar to meet the public interest,” said David Goodner, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a group that focuses on agricultural and environmental issues. “We launched a petition earlier this week calling on Gov. Branstad himself to reject the pipeline...He has a choice to stand with everyday Iowans or stand with big oil and out of state corporations.”

Branstad said he hasn’t decided whether he would support the project.

He met with a representative of the company over a week ago but said he still had questions about how the pipe would impact Iowa farmland and state residents.

“It’s premature,” he said. “I want to see how the constituents, how they feel. That’s the reason why I think it’s important to have those public hearings and get the input. I think you have to weigh the public safety element, weigh the jobs that are created.”

According to a spokeswoman for the company, the goal is to have the pipeline up and running by the end of 2016. The company estimates the project would create about 8,000 temporary jobs along the entire pipeline route and an unspecified number of permanent jobs in Iowa.

To gain approval of the pipeline through Iowa, the company must navigate a lengthy approval process with the Iowa Utilities Board. The company has to hold informational meetings in all the counties that may be affected by the pipeline and provide information to residents.

Lisa Dillinger, who works for the communications firm representing the energy company, said the company is likely going to hold those meetings in late September.

After those meetings, the company must wait at least 30 days before applying for a permit to build. Then there would be a public hearing to consider the petition for a permit.

In addition, the company cannot negotiate with residents to pay for land access until after the informational meetings. If they cannot make voluntary financial arrangements with landowners, they need state approval to use eminent domain. The company has already sent out 8,000 letters to people who live on the likely route, said Dillinger.

Energy Transfer Partners met with staff from the Iowa Utilities Board last week to discuss the project.

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