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Bakken pipeline hearing questions environmental impact of project

The Iowa Utilities Board’s evidentiary hearings for the Bakken pipeline are now through its second week of testimony and will begin to wrap up the proceedings that were scheduled to last 10 days. The hearings will be used to decide if Texas-based company Dakota Access LLC and its parent company Energy Transfer Partners will be allowed to use eminent domain to acquire rights to land needed by the companies to build a crude oil pipeline through the state.

The pipeline would transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale through South Dakota and Iowa en route to a hub in Pakota, Ill., that connects to a Texas-bound pipeline. It would extend 343 miles through Iowa and traverse 18 counties in the state, including Story and Boone. The pipeline would initially carry 320,000 barrels each day but could reach up to 450,000 barrels per day.

During the first two weeks of the hearings, the IUB, which includes Chairwoman Geri Huser, a former Democratic state legislator, as well as Nick Wagner and Libby Jacobs, both former Republican state legislators, all appointed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, listened to testimony from experts in various fields, Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners personnel, witnesses supporting the project and witnesses opposing the project.

The witnesses that support the construction of the pipeline have argued that the pipeline will lead to energy independence and the creation of jobs for people who would be hired to build the pipeline. The opposition voices have stated their fears about possible environmental impacts if a spill were to occur and that the jobs created would only be temporary, which would not help the state’s economy in the long run. There is also concern that the oil traveling through the pipeline would not do anything to benefit Iowans, which is a requirement if eminent domain is to be used.

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Damon Rahbar-Daniels, vice president of commercial development for Energy Transfer Partners, attempted to put those concerns to rest when he testified in front of the IUB.

“The facts are, Iowans, like American’s in general, rely upon crude oil production, rely upon crude oil logistics and rely upon refined products that come out of refineries in order for all of us to live the lives we lead,” Rahbar-Daniels said.

According to Rahbar-Daniels, that use of refined oil products means that even though the oil traveling through the Bakken pipeline would not stop directly in Iowa, Iowans will still benefit from its production. He added there are laws regulating the export of oil and it is only allowed to be exported to Canada and Mexico on a limited basis. Which according to Rahbar-Daniels means, “The greatest likelihood, by far, would be that it’s consumed in the US.”

Following that statement, it was pointed out to Rahbar-Daniels that there are no regulations stopping products produced using refined oil from being shipped to other countries, which would not benefit the state or possibly any part of America, in any way.

When asked if he believed the pipeline would add to the effects of climate change, Rahbar-Daniels said he wasn’t prepared to answer those types of questions.

“I’m not a scientist in terms of all those relations and so that’s just not something that I can speak to,” Rahbar-Daniels said.

When Monica Howard, director of environmental services for Energy Transfer Partners, took the stand on the next day, she tried to take on more of the concerns about possible damage to water conditions along the proposed route of the pipeline.

“No long-term effects to water quality or fish communities are anticipated as result of construction or operation based on our conservation measures and construction practices and based on our robust operating plans and monitoring locations, there is no anticipated long-term effects,” Howard said.

Following that statement, Howard said she is not aware of any independent agency that would monitor possible long-term effects to the environment if the pipeline were to be built.

Related: Sanders speaks against Bakken pipeline through Iowa

During last week’s testimony, which ended Tuesday for a recess over Thanksgiving, Charles Frey, vice president of engineering for Energy Transfer Partners discussed the pipeline’s planned route through farmland and under water ways. Frey argued that traveling beneath the rivers would be little risk to the environment, which echoed the arguments made by other members of Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners.

Those explanations resulted in Nathan Malachowski, of Citizens for Community Improvement, to release a statement saying that the hearings are ignoring tough questions that Iowans are wanting answered. The press release states that CCI believes that Dakota Access has given faulty information and inadequate answers during examination at the IUB hearings.

“The company has used the same arguments that have already been debunked by the opposition, and is even withholding valuable information from the public, including data on what the implications of a worst case scenario oil spill would be,” Malachowski said in the press release.

Brenda Brink, and Iowa CCI member from Huxley, added that she believes an environmental study should be required.

“With billions of dollars at stake, it’s difficult to believe that Dakota Access isn’t appropriating any federal funds or assistance to promote the pipeline,” Brink said. “If so, the National Environmental Policy Act is triggered and a full environmental impact statement must be performed for the entire length of the proposal.”

Starting Monday, the final days of the evidentiary hearing in Boone will begin. During that portion of the proceedings, members of CCI are expected to present their side of the argument. Although a final decision from the IUB may not come for some time. Many state officials have publicly said that a decision may not be made until after the start of the new year, while Huser has said that she doesn’t expect a decision until February.

This article was written by Austin Harrington from Ames Tribune, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.