The Texas-based company proposing the construction of a 1,134-mile crude oil pipeline has been joining local chambers of commerce along the project’s proposed Iowa route.
Energy Transfer Partners officially joined the Newton Chamber of Commerce in June, and according to chamber executive director Craig Light, it did so as a public relations and communications effort to keep in good standing with the local business community.
“As being part of the business community, (ETP) knows how vital being a part of that community is and what sounding board (the chamber) is,” Light said.“They used us as that go-between because without that knowledge that they provided, there probably would have been a lot of rumors going on and misconceptions. So I think they’re proactively trying to steer the conversation.”
ETP is the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC which has been pushing the development of the Bakken oil pipeline — stretching from North Dakota to a hub Patoka, Ill. and gulf coast refineries — for the last year. The pipeline would carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the state. ETP is hoping to lay 343.43 miles of underground pipe in Iowa, with 33.73 miles in rural areas of Jasper County from Mingo through Reasnor.
The project has to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board before construction can move forward. Dates for a final public hearings have tentatively been set for Nov. 12 through Dec. 2. The IUB could make a decision on the project by late 2015 or early 2016.
ETP has joined at least four chambers in cities along or near the Iowa pipeline route including Newton, Ottumwa, Storm Lake and Ames. The company is also a member of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry — one of the pass through states that would be affected if the project moves forward.
Light said representatives for ETP gave a presentation to the Newton Chamber prior the open community meeting in 2014 and before the company contracted a third-party to stockpile pipe in a farm field three miles east of Newton.
Since officially joining this summer, Light said ETP has not been an active member of the Newton Chamber, and he has not heard more from the company beyond their initial meeting. But the Newton Chamber says that ETP’s membership is not an endorsement of the project. Light said the chamber is obligated to stay neutral and not endorse a company when a project is political in nature. The business organization will distribute facts provided by ETP, but will not come out and openly support the pipeline.
“Even though a chamber member may not be an active member of that chamber they still get that perceived value of being a good corporate citizen, so I’m sure that’s (ETP’s) motivation,” Light said.
Light cited a study conducted by the Atlanta-based strategic consulting firm The Schapiro Group which claims that consumers are 49 percent more likely to think favorably of a business if they’re part of a chamber of commerce.
One of the larger Iowa Chamber organizations to accept ETP’s membership is the Ames Chamber of Commerce. President Dan Culhane said it’s not uncommon for an out-of-state contractor to join a local chamber in the lead up to a large construction project.
“If they’re going to be here for an extended period of time, more often than not, a company will join the chamber to show support for the local community,” he said.
Like Newton Chamber officials, Culhane believes it’s a good possibility that ETP will not renew its local chamber memberships after the construction of the pipeline is complete.
Ames’ chamber also has not come out in support or against oil pipeline.
The Newton Chamber has other members with headquarters based outside Newton such as Alliant Energy and Black Hills Energy. Light said as cities in Central Iowa expand, the chamber has seen more interest from Des Moines-area companies wanting to have a business presence in Newton. But, historically, 95 percent of chamber members have been Newton-based businesses.
Light said during ETP’s presentation to the Newton Chamber, the company did not touch on local labor or specific Newton-area manufactures which might benefit from the project. But the chamber was told the business community should be ready for an influx of workers coming into Jasper County acting as consumers. Light said ETP recommended local grocery and convenience stores begin to carry more ice and staple items.
“They’re going to have this big work crew here and a lot of them might be sleeping in campers and tents. Not all of them will be in hotels. So they said the community needs to be aware when they’re here you need to ramp up your ice production,” Light said. “You need to have certain staple foods available.”
David Swenson is an associate scientist of economics at Iowa State University and authored a counter assessment in 2014 to ETP’s local jobs impact claims associated with the proposed pipeline. He said joining local, small town chamber of commerce is likely a public relations move by ETP, an attempt to ease any tensions with local business communities and marshal community support based on regional job impacts. But the economic scientist said he doesn’t know if the move will be effective in Iowa.
“The temporary jobs will move to the area, and once that area construction is complete, the jobs will move on like a swarm of locusts,” Swenson said. “Really what we’re getting at is — it’s push comes to shove time. Everything hinges on the Utilities Board’s decision.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at email@example.com