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Proposed Oil Pipeline Would Cut Across Iowa


Business is booming in North Dakota's Bakken Shale oilfields and with that boom comes a need for infrastructure. More than half the oil coming out the Bakkan leaves by train or by truck. But companies are working on pipelines. And one proposed pipeline would cut clear through the state of Iowa. Here's Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: A Texas company wants to build an 1100 mile crude oil pipeline from the northwest corner of the state to the southeast. In two years the pipeline could be carrying out to 320,000 barrels a day from the Bakken Shale oilfields to Patoka, Illinois. And from there the oil would be shipped to the East Coast or the Gulf. Iowa environmentalists are not happy about it.


PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We are the marchers, the mighty, mighty marchers.

MASTERS: Environmental activists marched this week in downtown Des Moines. They say the state should not enable the transfer of more fossil fuel because it contributes to climate change. Iowa's Republican Governor Terry Branstad won't say whether or not he supports or opposes the pipeline plan. But he's not ruling out the country's need for fossil fuels.

GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD: We're going to continue to have a need for fossil fuels but this - it's from the United States and that is really benefiting our country and reducing our dependency on foreign oil is a very positive thing.

MASTERS: Branstad still has questions about how Iowa farmland would be repaired after the pipeline's built. He's met with the company behind the plan. It's called Energy Transfer Partners. Vicki Granado is a spokesperson for the company.

VICKI GRANADO: It's the appropriate time to start bringing additional infrastructure in there and certainly pipelines are the most efficient and the safest way in this country to transport natural gas and crude.

MASTERS: Granado's also trying to sell Iowans on the thousands of jobs she says building the pipeline would create. And the company still has to win over thousands of landowners. A couple dozen landowners gather in a large machine shop in Southeast Iowa's rural Keokuk County. They're surrounded by tool benches and farm equipment.

DON BECK: Ten days ago, a man showed up at my house, and he said, we're going to put a pipeline through your ground. I said, are you sure? And he said, yes. And I said...

MASTERS: That's Don Beck. Other landowners wonder what a pipeline would do to property values. Pam Alexander worries about potential leaks. She received a letter from the company asking for permission to survey her land; she doesn't plan to let them.

PAM ALEXANDER: I just don't believe in pipelines, I don't believe in this pipeline or the Keystone pipeline. I think there's better ways that they can do this, maybe not cheaper ways but better ways.

MASTERS: Independent energy economist Phil Verleger does not see much impact for Iowa. He says oil producers hope to benefit from a pipeline that will get their oil to refineries more cheaply and hopefully bring them a higher price for their oil.

PHIL VERLEGER: These will be designed to get the oil down to Houston and from Houston or from Louisiana. I am sure the plan is to load them on ships and send the oil abroad.

MASTERS: The company still has to go through a lengthy approval process with the Iowa Utilities Board. Right now, the state attorney general's office is advising land owners to seek legal advice before committing to anything. Those letter-holding Iowans will have plenty of time to drill company officials next month when Energy Transfer Partners will hold public meetings in all 17 counties the pipeline would cross. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

INSKEEP: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR

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