‘No net loss of wetlands’ because of Bakken pipeline, official says

2:55 p.m.:  Monica Howard, director of environmental services for Energy Transfer Partners, is testifying. She has told state regulators there would be “no net loss of wetlands” as a result of the proposed Bakken pipeline and there will be “very robust” post-construction monitoring to ensure restoration of lands in Iowa where the pipeline is constructed.

“There is no anticipated long-term effect” on water quality and fish communities, Howard said. She added, “We are going above and beyond regulation” in protecting the environment.

Some rivers will be crossed using horizontal directional drilling, while in other cases there will be an “open cut” or a ditch dug across streams and other waterways, Howard said. Such areas would be isolated with dams and would be restored after the pipe is installed. The environmental impacts from such crossings are “extremely miniscule,” she said.

BOONE, Ia. – Increased railroad shipments of North Dakota crude oil have made it more difficult to ship grain by rail, which is costing farmers money in the Upper Midwest, a commodity market analyst told the Iowa Utilities Board Tuesday.

Analyst Elaine  Kub testified the construction of oil pipelines such as the proposed Bakken pipeline through Iowa would help ease rail traffic congestion, freeing up the railroad industry to carry shipments of commodities such as corn and soybeans.

Kub spoke on the third day of proceedings by  Iowa utility regulators to consider a request for a state permit to construct the Bakken oil pipeline, which has been proposed by Dakota Access, LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline would carry about 450,000 barrels of oil daily from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill.

“If there are 450,000 barrels a day on this pipeline, there are 450,000  barrels a day less on the rail….All things being equal, the price of freight would be lower,” Kub said.

Kub authored a study for the American Farm Bureau Federation which concluded that grain producers in Upper Midwest states – Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana – have  been negatively affected by dramatic increases in shipments of North Dakota crude oil via railroad. Between 2009 and 2013, the amount of oil moving by rail in the U.S. spiked from about 10,000 cars to about 400,000 cars annually, creating gridlock at times for grain shippers seeking access to rail freight.

“I would say that Iowa has been affected” as well, Kub said. She added, “If we take oil off of rail lines, that will also have an effect.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that grain producers throughout the Upper Midwest may have received $570 million less for the crops they marketed in 2014 than they could have earned in a normal freight environment because of congested rail traffic.  Iowa’s agriculture industry is less reliant on railroads to ship grain  than some other states because much of Iowa’s grain is trucked to ethanol plants or to the Mississippi River to be transported by barges. But Kub said all grain shippers using rail would benefit by an easing of rail freight congestion.

The Iowa Utilities Board plans to hear from witnesses for and against the pipeline project in proceedings at the Boone County Fairgrounds that are scheduled to continue into early December. The board is expected to make a decision on the pipeline permit sometime in December or early January.

Information about live video streaming of the public hearing is available on the Iowa Utilities Board website.