Iowa Utilities Board Appears Ready to Allow Bakken Pipeline Construction to Begin

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Energy Transfer Partners

The Iowa Utilities Board could give Dakota Access LLC the go-ahead as early as this week to begin construction on its crude oil pipeline that would stretch 346 miles diagonally across the state en route from South Dakota to Illinois.

The Des Moines Register reported on the board’s latest meeting, held this afternoon:

Board members Libby Jacobs and Nick Wagner said they believe that allowing work to begin on certain sections of the route would comply with an order they issued in March to grant a state permit for the pipeline project. Authorizing construction “would seem to be the next logical step,” Jacobs said.

However, Chairwoman Geri Huser had questions, expressing concerns the board was modifying conditions it established in March which included a requirement that all state and federal permits be obtained before construction could begin. But Wagner downplayed Huser’s reservations about the board’s pending actions, saying, “I view it as more of a clarification.”

The board directed its staff to develop an order for pipeline project that at least a majority of the board is expected to sign later this week.

(The order the IUB issued in March to grant Dakota Access the permit, contingent upon a list of conditions, can be viewed in full here.)

Dakota Access would still need approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers to build across waterways that comprise about 2.5 percent of the pipeline’s proposed route across Iowa. And just last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources ordered a stop to construction in the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area (in Boone, Lee, and Lyon counties) after the United States Fish and Wildlife Service revoked another permit because of the discovery of a Native American archaeological site.

Some pipeline construction work has already begun in Iowa, contrary to the company’s claims. In early April, questions were raised with the IUB about a parcel of land recently owned by Dakota Access and adjacent to another it currently owns, on which a pumping substation for the pipeline is being constructed. The IUB warned of possible fines; an attorney for Dakota Access contested that the substation, and tree-clearing activities also under scrutiny, didn’t fall under the scope of construction as defined by the IUB. Days later, shortly after the attorney argued in front of the Story County Board of Supervisors that Dakota Access needed road improvements to access the substation it supposedly wasn’t involved with, the IUB determined that Dakota Access had complied with its pre-permitting requirements and granted the construction permit.

Several lawsuits pending in courts, primarily concerning landowners’ eminent domain challenges, could also eventually impact Dakota Access’ construction plans, and more suits are likely to follow.

Opposition elsewhere also remains strong. On June 6, the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition plans to meet at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines for a “Broken Heartland Rally.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.