Tag Archives: Iowa

12 things to know about proposed Bakken oil pipeline – “Dakota Access”

Repost from the Des Moines Register
[Editor:  See also Act-now-stop-the-dakota-access-pipeline/.  – RS]

12 things to know about proposed Bakken oil pipeline

By William Petroski, November 9, 2015 8:14 p.m. CST

Bakken pipeline Iowa mapMonths of debate over a proposed $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline will come to a head Thursday when the Iowa Utilities Board begins hearings on the controversial project, which has deeply divided Iowans from many walks of life.

Dakota Access LLC., a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is so confident its pipeline project will be approved that the company has already hired contractors to lay the pipe. In addition, a third-party procurement firm has already delivered huge stacks of metal pipe to Iowa that would be purchased by Dakota Access if state permits are authorized. But foes of the project insist the pipeline approval isn’t a done deal.

The pipeline would run diagonally for 343 miles through 18 Iowa counties while transporting up to 570,000 barrels of light sweet crude oil daily from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas of North Dakota.

The pipeline would end at a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill., where the oil could be transferred to railroad tank cars or linked to another pipeline for shipment to refineries in the Gulf Coast area.

The utilities board says 280 people have signed up to testify on Thursday, including 134 in favor of the pipeline, 143 opposed, and three who are neutral.

Here are 12 things to know about  the upcoming hearings, which will be held at the Boone County Fairgrounds in Boone:


Energy Transfer is considered a leader in the domestic energy sector, and it already owns and operates about 71,000 miles of pipelines throughout the United States.

The company announced plans for the project in June 2014, and it says it has secured long-term binding  contracts for oil shipments to support construction of the pipeline. Much of the oil produced since a boom began in North Dakota’s oil region has been hauled to major refining markets by railroad tank cars and trucks, a method that is more costly and hazardous than transportation via pipeline, experts say.

Although slumping prices for crude on the global market has slowed production from North Dakota’s oil fields, Energy Transfer has not retreated on plans for the Bakken pipeline. The company says it hopes to have the pipeline operational by late 2016.


The pipeline would pass from the northwest to the southeast, through 18 Iowa counties: Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Webster, Boone, Story, Polk, Jasper, Mahaska, Keokuk, Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren, and Lee.

Dakota Access says that when construction is underway, a 150-foot-wide right of way will be requested, most of which will be used temporarily. When the pipeline is finished, a permanent 50-foot easement will be required. The  pipe would be buried in farm fields so that the top of the pipe is at least 48 inches deep, or 2 feet below any drain tiles, whichever is lower, according to state officials.


Strong support has been voiced by union construction workers who would help build the pipeline, and by Iowa business interests who see the project as contributing to the nation’s energy independence and a robust state economy.

Some farmers say transporting oil by pipeline will help ease congestion on railroads, expediting shipments of Midwest grain at harvest.

James Nelson of Sioux City, who lives about a block from a major BNSF Railway line in northwest Iowa, regularly watches railroad tanker cars carrying North Dakota crude oil pass through his neighborhood. He supports the pipeline project as a safer alternative for transporting oil, pointing to catastrophic accidents that have occurred when Bakken oil trains have derailed elsewhere. He also endorses the use of eminent domain to acquire easements for the pipeline.

“The laws for eminent domain were established for the purpose of preventing a small minority from stopping a project that so clearly minimizes the danger to so many people,” Nelson said in a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board. “That appears to be the case with the Dakota Access Pipeline.”


Many farmers along the route say they don’t want the pipeline to pass through their land, fearing damage to agricultural drainage lines and reduced crop yields, and they strongly object to eminent domain being authorized to gain easements for the pipeline route.

Environmentalists have joined the fight, expressing worries about pipeline spills and objecting to developing infrastructure to transport fossil fuels, which they believe contribute to climate change. In addition, the Meskwaki Indian tribe opposes the project, expressing concerns the pipeline would harm Native American graves while crossing through ancestral and ceded treaty lands.

Arthur Moeller of Fort Dodge, heir to a Calhoun County farm that has been in his family for 130 years, filed an objection to the pipeline project with the Iowa Utilities Board in in late October.

“Nowhere can we find that they have the assets and/or insurance coverage to adequately protect us now or in the future,” Moeller said. “The spills across the nation that are listed on the Internet show that it can take millions of dollars to clean them up, and in some cases it isn’t even possible… Eminent domain should not be granted to a private company for the benefit of a few at the expense of many.”


The Iowa Utilities Board comprises three persons appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

They’re all former members of the Iowa House of Representatives and are considered friendly to business: Chairwoman Geri Huser is a Democrat, and board members Libby Jacobs and Nick Wagner are both Republicans.

Branstad has championed construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was rejected by President Barack Obama’s administration last week. But Branstad has declined to take a stand on the Bakken pipeline, although he endorses eminent domain for pipelines in certain circumstances.


The hearings will be at the Boone County Fairgrounds Community Building in Boone, which board spokesman Don Tormey called the middle point for the project in Iowa.

The Iowa Utilities Board has issued an order for up to 11 days of hearings to begin Thursday, Nov. 12, and to continue through Dec. 2 if necessary. The first day of hearings will be set aside for public comment, while the following days will be used for a trial-like evidentiary proceeding.


The Utilities Board is expected to vote on the pipeline application by year’s end or early January.

State approvals are also pending in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. Unlike the Keystone XL pipeline, approval is not required from Obama or the U.S. State Department. Federal approval was required for Keystone because it would have crossed an international border.


They will be carried via video livestream on the Utilities Board’s website: https://iub.iowa.gov/


Energy Transfer says the entire four-state project will cost $3.78 billion, including the Iowa segment’s cost of $1.04 billion.

The company says 2,000 to 4,000 jobs would be provided in Iowa during construction, and Iowa would receive about $50 million in sales and income taxes during construction.

Energy Transfer has promised to hire at least half of the workers on Iowa’s portion from within the state, and it has reached an agreement to hire Iowa union workers. The company says most pipeline jobs would be skilled — welders, mechanics, electricians, pipe fitters and heavy equipment operators. Average annual income for workers would be $57,000. In 2017, the company says the pipeline would generate an estimated $24.7 million in local property taxes in Iowa.

However, Iowa State University economist David Swenson, as well as critics of the pipeline project, contend that projected benefits of the pipeline in Iowa exaggerate its positive impacts on the state’s economy. Swenson testified as a neutral witness last month in a deposition submitted by the Sierra Club, and he noted that the two major contractors recently hired for the Iowa segment are both from out of state.

Once completed, the pipeline would not have any distribution centers in Iowa, and it would employ only 12 to 15 permanent employees in the state, according to the company. That’s prompted pipeline critics to contend the primary beneficiaries of the project would be out-of-state business interests.


Energy Transfer says that as the pipeline is constructed, every weld that joins each section of pipe would be inspected both visually and with  X-rays to prevent leaks.

Valves would be installed along the pipeline to shut off the flow of oil through pipe sections in an emergency. The pipeline would be inspected and pressure-tested with water at higher than normal operating pressure before it would be placed in service. Special regulation devices would be installed to prevent oil pressure from exceeding safe limits, and an emergency shutdown system would be used to immediately and safety shut down pump stations and isolate pipe sections in an emergency.

The company also promises around-the-clock monitoring and regular inspections and testing, as well as efforts to educate the public about preventing damage. In addition, the company would coordinate with local emergency responders. It would post signs that mark the location of the pipeline and give a phone number to call before digging.

Energy Transfer also pledges to clean up the construction area after the pipeline is installed and to restore the land in compliance with state law.


Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Dakota Access, says voluntary easement agreements have been signed for 72 percent of the properties along the Iowa section of the route and for 78 percent of the properties along the entire four-state route.

Company officials have estimated they would make $60 million in easement payments to Iowa property owners whose land the pipeline would cross.

If farmers don’t agree to voluntary easements, the Iowa Utilities Board could be asked to authorize the use of eminent domain, which would allow the company to take private land for right of way over a property owner’s objections after paying fair market compensation.

A Cherokee County District Court judge last month used a technicality to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s authority to grant eminent domain for the project. District Judge Carl Petersen said the three landowners who sued needed to first exhaust administrative remedies before they could sue the state agency. The judge did not rule whether Dakota Access is eligible for eminent domain.


The pipeline project must win approval from regulators in three other states in addition to Iowa.

It also is subject to regulations of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and to federal environmental laws that include the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Rivers and Harbor Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Historical Preservation Act.

In addition, Dakota Access has promised to comply with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Pipeline opponents say that if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project, they still intend to oppose environmental approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

Repost from Reuters

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

By Edward McAllister, Mar 23, 2015 4:45pm EDT
Firefighters' jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Firefighters’ jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

(Reuters) – Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.

“They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”

No one was hurt in the fire, which burned for days, fed by oil leaking from the ruptured tank cars. But an increase in explosive accidents in North America this year highlights the risks that thousands of rural fire departments face as shipments of oil by rail grow and regulators call for improved train car standards.

Nearly two years after a crude oil train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, there are no uniform U.S. standards for oil train safety procedures, and training varies widely across the country, according to interviews with firefighters and experts in oil train derailments and training.

About 2,500 fire departments are adjacent to rail lines transporting oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa alone, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation, but no nationwide statistics exist. The DOT does not know which of these fire departments are in need of training, a spokesman said.

The scenario concerns experts who say more needs to be done for sparsely equipped, rural, mostly volunteer-run fire departments to prepare as oil train accidents increase. Already this year, four oil trains have derailed and exploded in North America, double last year’s tally.

No deaths have occurred as a result of U.S. derailments. Oil trains have been a consistent feature on U.S. rails only since 2009.

“Is it acceptable that we just let these fires burn out?” said Thomas Miller, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council and principal at the National Fire Protection Association, which draws up training guidelines.

“We have to have a comprehensive plan to identify training levels required and to make sure training is available,” he said.


Railroads have increased safety training in the nearly two years since Lac-Megantic, a period during which nine trains have derailed and exploded in North America.

Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp and other railroads have bolstered their own network of hundreds of hazardous-materials experts and equipment centers dotted around the country that react if an accident occurs.

The major North American railroads last year spent $5 million to send more than 1,500 first responders on a new three-day oil train program in Pueblo, Colorado, the first site dedicated to oil derailment training in the United States.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is developing an oil derailment training module, expected to be completed in May.

But PHMSA funding to state and tribal governments for hazmat training has declined from $21.1 million in 2010 to $20.2 million last year, even as oil derailments increased. Moreover, interviews with fire departments across the country reveal stark disparities in training.

In Galena, where up to 50 oil trains roll through each week, the fire department had received some basic hazmat training provided by BNSF last year. But when the train came off the rails in March, Galena firefighters were still waiting for a slot at the Pueblo, Colorado facility.

“It was a bit cart-before-the-horse,” said Galena volunteer fire chief Randy Beadle. “It just happened that we had an incident before we could get the guys out there” to Pueblo, he said.

It is unclear what exactly the Galena firefighters might have done differently given proper training and greater resources, but other firefighters who have received extensive training say it is vital to countering an oil train blaze safely.

In Casselton, North Dakota, the fire department has been “bombarded” with training after an oil train collided with a derailed soybean train in December 2013, setting 21 oil cars ablaze and causing a fireball whose heat was felt from over a quarter of a mile away, said Casselton’s volunteer fire chief, Tim McLean.

Before that accident, McLean and his 28-strong fire team “had no idea oil trains were that explosive,” said McLean, a corn and soy farmer. Since then, eight firefighters from the department have been to the Pueblo site for intensive training and more will attend this year.

In Pembroke, Virginia, where CSX rerouted some crude oil trains last month after a derailment damaged its track in West Virginia, the volunteer department has had no specific oil training, said fire department president Jerry Gautier.

“We have reached thousands of people for hydrogen and ethanol training, but the oil program is in its infancy,” said Rick Edinger, a member of the hazardous material committee at the International Fire Chiefs Association. “It could take a couple of years to roll out.”

Meanwhile, oil train accidents remain at the front of people’s minds in Galena, especially for Pedersen, the emergency manager in Jo Daviess county, one of the busiest areas in Illinois for oil trains.

“Every time I hear a train go by now, I think a little differently about it,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Reroute oil trains? History suggests it’s a long shot

Repost from The Star Tribune, Minneapolis MN

Reroute oil trains? History suggests it’s a long shot

By Jim Spencer, March 21, 2015 – 8:22 PM

Industry says reinforced cars on current routes are better than trying to avoid heavily populated areas.

A train carried Bakken oil past St. Paul. Federal rules say a single tanker car spill and fire would require a half-mile evacuation. Photo: Star Tribune

WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Sen. Al Franken asked the Federal Railroad Administration to consider rerouting trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota so they do not pass through Minnesota’s biggest cities.

For Franken, the possibility of rerouting is an integral part of a comprehensive response to a recent rash of fiery oil train derailments that also includes stabilizing Bakken crude before it is loaded into stronger tanker cars.

For the nation’s powerful railroad lobby, however, rerouting is an unwarranted intrusion into a rail safety system that the industry says works.

Government-ordered rerouting of private rail traffic is not exactly a snowball in hell. It is more like a blizzard in Bahrain — possible, but unprecedented.

In Minnesota and around the country, “rerouting issues ought to be high on everyone’s agenda,” said rail safety expert Fred Millar, who fought unsuccessfully against railroads to move chlorine trains out of the District of Columbia. “But rerouting has been pushed off the table.”

Congress created the Federal Railroad Administration in 1966. In nearly half a century it does not appear to have forced any railroads to reroute trains around big cities for safety reasons, despite computer modeling that estimates routing changes could lower citizens’ risks to hazardous materials derailments by 25 to 50 percent and reduce casualties in an actual derailment by half.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) last week estimated that 326,170 state residents live within a half-mile of rail routes that carry oil from North Dakota across Minnesota. A half-mile is the federal emergency response evacuation zone required in the event of a single tanker car spill and fire. Multiple-car fires require up to a mile evacuation.

MnDOT data shows that 156,316 of the Minnesotans subject to evacuation in an oil train derailment live in the Twin Cities metro area. Most North Dakota oil trains enter Minnesota at Moorhead, then travel on BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway tracks into the Twin Cities before turning south along the Mississippi River and east across Wisconsin. A few oil trains travel through western Minnesota into Iowa.

Although the National Transportation Safety Board has backed rerouting in some circumstances, federal laws passed in 2007 grant private rail companies wide latitude in determining when and where trains should move, even trains carrying hazardous materials.

Canadian Pacific did not comment specifically on rerouting trains in Minnesota, but in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, the railroad said it has voluntarily complied with the federal government’s Crude by Rail Safety Initiatives and performed “route risk assessments.”

BNSF, the largest crude-by-rail hauler out of North Dakota, declined to comment on rerouting and referred questions to the rail industry’s major trade group, the Association of American Railroads.

An AAR spokesman said the industry opposes re-routing oil trains because the existing routes are the safest, even when they pass through urban areas. The industry supports more structurally secure tanker cars, track inspections and training of emergency response teams, said AAR media relations director Ed Greenberg.

BNSF also has invested heavily in track improvements to increase safety along its existing Minnesota oil train routes.

“We’re using routing technology called the Rail Corridor Risk Management System developed by the federal government,” Greenberg said. The technology measures 27 factors — including population density — to determine the safest route for moving hazardous materials, including crude oil, Greenberg said.

“Rerouting isn’t the answer,” he maintained. “All it has accomplished in the past is to force rail traffic through other communities on tracks not built to accommodate products like crude oil.”

The Federal Railroad Administration declined to discuss rerouting oil trains in Minnesota. In an e-mail statement, acting administrator Sarah Feinberg said of Franken’s request: “Over the past 18 months we have taken more than a dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil while working on a comprehensive rule that is now in its final stages of development.”

The state has little say in the rerouting debate. “The railroads are regulated by the federal government,” Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said. “The state does not have the authority to move, or reroute, rail lines.”

Rerouting trains away from the Twin Cities is not part of a rail safety initiative unveiled March 13 by Gov. Mark Dayton. That proposal calls for spending $330 million over 10 years, much of it in greater Minnesota, mainly to make road-rail crossings safer and to improve emergency response.

Iowa Public Radio: Derailment in Dubuque–A Reminder of the Hazards of Transporting Oil by Rail

Repost from Iowa Public Radio
[Editor: For the most part, Canadian Pacific Railway spokesperson Andy Cummings is incredibly evasive, offering only general and unresponsive answers to the radio reporter interviewing him.  This is a 21-minute investigative report, well worth listening beyond the first interview with Mr. Cummings.  – R]

Derailment in Dubuque–A Reminder of the Hazards of Transporting Oil by Rail

By Emily Woodbury & Ben Kieffer, Feb. 13, 2015 
DOT-111s make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet
DOT-111s make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet | Bengt 1955 / flickr

With at least one million gallons of crude oil and ethanol passing through Iowa on a single freight train, derailments like the one last week a few miles from Dubuque are a major concern.

IPR_Dubuque-derailment“As ethanol dilutes into the water, it’s kind of that process that depletes the oxygen from the water,” says Kevin Baskins, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “That’s something we’re going to continue to monitor in the near future.”

Baskins says that the cleanup is going well so far, and they are in the process of sparging air, a process that involves evaporating the ethanol into the air rather that letting it dissolve into the water.

Erin Jordan, reporter with The Gazette and KCRG-TV9, says that derailments with DOT-111s can be especially problematic, as they are vulnerable to puncture in a derailment. DOT-111s are a type of train car commonly used to transport crude oil and ethanol, as well as other hazardous materials.

“A Johnson County commodity study showed, in addition to ethanol, there was also battery acid, anhydrous ammonia, pesticides, paint […] and so you can imagine there would be an environmental effect to those,” she says.

Right now, nine Iowa counties have extra large shipments of crude oil traveling through. While area residents are not notified of what materials are being hauled through their communities, Canadian Pacific Railway’s spokesperson Andy Cummings says they will answer specific questions from emergency responders.

“They can contact the railroad, and we will make that information available to them,” says Andy Cummings. “For security reasons, we do not share details of our dangerous goods movements publicly.”

Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF Railway Co. also report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“There has to be more with respect to openness and disclosure of the chemicals that are being transported,” says Baskins. “When a spill happens, it’s immediate that you have to alert the public, you have to have a plan in place to respond, and you can’t do that if you’re trying to figure out what’s in the chemical that actually spilled.”

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with Kevin Baskins and Erin Jordan, as well as David Cwiertny, associate faculty research engineer for the IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa, and Andy Cummings, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway.