‘Stealth’ Bakken pipeline project faces fight in Iowa
BISMARCK – A major oil pipeline that would cross the Missouri River twice in North Dakota as it carries crude from the Bakken oilfields to Illinois faces a fight from activists in Iowa but so far has largely flown under the radar here.
Energy Transfer Partners LP of Dallas, Texas, says it expects to have the $3.7 billion, 1,100-mile Bakken Pipeline completed and in service by the end of 2016.
It would be the largest crude oil pipeline originating in North Dakota, said Justin Kringstad, director of the state Pipeline Authority.
“From the long-term perspective, as production continues to grow, this will be a very important project for the state and the country,” he said.
Company spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the 30-inch-diameter pipeline would initially carry a minimum of 320,000 barrels per day and could eventually transport up to 570,000 barrels per day, or more than half of the nearly 1.1 million barrels per day produced in North Dakota in June, the most recent figures available.
Energy Transfer Partners sent letters in July to landowners in the proposed path of the pipeline, outlining the project and seeking permission to survey their land, Granado said.
She said the company plans to file a siting application later this year with the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which has authority over the pipeline route.
When contacted about the project Tuesday, PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said he wasn’t familiar with it.
South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Gary Hanson said officials there first learned about the project from landowners three to four weeks before being contacted by company officials.
“At first it was very much a stealth pipeline type of a situation for us, because we heard about it from landowners who had been contacted by the company,” Hanson said. “We didn’t hear about it originally from the company itself, which is unusual.”
In North Dakota, the project would consist of 143 miles of oil gathering pipelines and 200 miles of larger transmission pipeline, Granado said via email.
The pipeline would start in the Stanley area and run west before wrapping around Williston and crossing the Missouri River east of the confluence with the Yellowstone River. From there, the pipeline would snake southeast through the Watford City area and south of Bismarck, crossing the Missouri River again just north of Cannon Ball, according to company maps posted online.
Granado said the company will run the pipeline under the river and use horizontal directional drilling, “so there is minimal impact on the surrounding area.”
The pipeline would continue its diagonal route through South Dakota, passing near Redfield and Sioux Falls, and bisect Iowa before reaching its final destination in Patoka, Ill.
From there, Energy Transfer Partners says shippers will be able to access multiple markets from Patoka, including Midwest and East Coast markets by rail and the Gulf Coast by pipeline.
Energy Products Partners said in June that its proposed pipeline not only supports continued growth and production in the Bakken, “but does so in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner by reducing the current utilization of rail and truck transportation as the predominant alternative to moving Bakken crude oil volumes to major U.S. markets.”
Iowans gearing up for fight
The company announced in a statement June 25 that its board of directors had approved building the pipeline.
Coincidentally, that was the same day North Dakota regulators approved construction of Enbridge Inc.’s 616-mile Sandpiper pipeline, which will carry crude from an oilfield near Tioga to a terminal in Superior, Wis. The North Dakota portion of the pipeline will handle up to 225,000 barrels per day.
The $2.6 billion Sandpiper project has met resistance and spurred protests in Minnesota over concerns about its impact to the environment and farmland, and it still needs regulatory approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
The Bakken Pipeline faces similar hurdles in Iowa, where environmental and political activists have vowed to fight the project.
Adam Mason, state policy organizing director for Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement, said the group’s 3,000 members have concerns about the pipeline’s impact on property rights and farmland and the potential use of eminent domain to acquire right-of-way for the project.
“(Bakken oil) already is moving through the state by rail in some places,” Mason said. “But putting a pipeline through the state, through the heart of farming country in northwest Iowa, crossing multiple waterways which provide drinking water to millions of Iowans, is a huge concern.”
Granado said the company hopes to acquire easements by working with each landowner, calling eminent domain “a last resort option for us.”
Energy Transfer Partners originally scheduled public information meetings in September and October in each of the 17 Iowa counties the pipeline would cross, but the company said it was pushing those meetings back to December out of respect for the harvest season and Thanksgiving holiday, the Des Moines Register reported Monday.
Granado said the company is planning to hold public meetings in North Dakota, most likely in late September.
Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, a grassroots activist group that has opposed the Keystone XL project, and Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, both said last week that they weren’t familiar with the Bakken Pipeline project.
Schafer said North Dakota needs to develop a comprehensive plan identifying the best routes for pipelines, “rather than just a piecemeal, hopscotch way of putting in pipelines.”
“Right now, it’s just a free-for-all,” he said.
‘Key’ piece of pipeline puzzle
Attempts by companies such as Koch Pipeline and ONEOK to attract shippers for major crude pipelines from the Bakken to distribution hubs in Illinois and Oklahoma have failed in the past year, but Energy Transfer Partners says it has secured enough “multiple long-term binding contractual commitments” from shippers to fully support building the Bakken Pipeline.
Kringstad said the Bakken Pipeline “will be a key project moving forward” as North Dakota works to boost pipeline capacity, ease rail congestion and reduce the flaring of natural gas from wells not connected to the pipeline system.
Fifty-nine percent of North Dakota’s crude oil production left the state by rail and 34 percent was exported via pipeline in June, according to the most recent figures available from the Pipeline Authority. The rest was trucked to Canadian pipelines or refined in state.
North Dakota’s oil pipeline capacity totaled 583,000 barrels per day at the end of last year and is expected to hit 783,000 barrels by the end of this year. If all of the oil pipeline projects that have been proposed or are in the review or regulatory phases come to fruition, daily capacity will reach 1.588 million barrels in 2016, according to Kringstad’s office.
“I think in the long-term, there’s the potential to have some barrels always moving out by rail” to markets such as West Coast refineries that pipelines may not reach, he said. “But you see that the bulk of it then going forward is being moved by pipelines.”
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.