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Possible Burial Ground Halts Pipeline

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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The Bakken pipeline, which would run from oil fields in North Dakota to southern Illinois, may be facing a setback in Iowa, where its proposed route runs through what some American Indian tribal leaders say are ancient burial lands.

The Des Moines Register reported Friday (May 27) that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked a Sovereign Lands Construction Permit for the pipeline last week, advising Iowa officials to put a halt to any work being done to prepare for pipeline construction. According to Sioux leaders, an area of the Big Sioux Wildlife Management Area where the pipeline is set to be built contains a burial site.

Bakken Pipeline map
Images: Energy Transfer Partners

The pipeline would move oil from the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota to a pipeline terminal near Patoka, IL, about 1,168 miles.

The Bakken pipeline, also known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, was first proposed in 2014 by Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. It would move oil from the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota to a pipeline terminal near Patoka, IL, about 1,168 miles, according to Energy Transfer.

Right of Way in Iowa

Construction on the pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois is now underway, but several factors have kept the project from taking off in Iowa. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to allow permission to build the pipeline on property under its jurisdiction in Iowa.

Energy Transfer made a request to the Iowa Utility Board for permission to begin work elsewhere in the state in the meantime. That hasn't been ruled on yet, though media reports indicate that decision could come as soon as today (June 1).

Bakken pipeline in Iowa map

The proposed Iowa portion stretches from Lyon County in the northwest corner of the state to Lee County in the southeast, spanning about 348 miles.

And two weeks ago, two landowners filed suit to try to stop the project from building on their property using eminent domain.

According to Energy Tranfer’s most recent report, in March, it had successfully garnered voluntary easements from 91 percent of the landowners who would be affected by the pipeline’s construction. Iowa was the last of the four affected states to grant the project the use of eminent domain, and as of March it had the lowest rate of voluntary agreements, at 83 percent.

Burial Ground Protection

Now, the Iowa portion of the project will have to wait until the federal government looks into the claims that the pipeline’s proposed route crosses what might be considered an “ancient burial site” for the Sioux tribe. The area in question is in Lyon County. Iowa’s Burials Protection Act ensures the protection of burial grounds over 150 years old.

Lyon County map

The area with the possible burial ground is in Lyon County.

Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger told The Des Moines Register, "We are aware of the rumors of a potential archaeological site along the route, which has not been confirmed. If something is confirmed in the area, we will work with the appropriate agencies to make any necessary adjustments. Energy Transfer takes great care is these types of situations and we will do all that is needed to mitigate any impact."

The proposed Iowa portion stretches from Lyon County in the northwest corner of the state to Lee County in the southeast, spanning about 348 miles, according to Energy Transfer. That’s just under 30 percent of the total pipeline.

Bakken History

The Bakken oil boom brought about by advances in extraction began in the late 2000s and peaked in the early 2010s; government numbers showed North Dakota’s GDP growing faster than any other state’s between 2010 and 2012.

Bakken crude has been characterized as more flammable than other crude oil, and played a role in the 2013 derailment and explosion that killed 47 and destroyed much of the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec in 2013.

Energy Transfer estimates a $5 billion impact on oil production and sales in the region when the pipeline is complete, and predicts it will pay about $194 million total to landowners for right-of-way. The company estimates labor income related to the project will be $1.9 billion, with half of the labor originating in the four states the pipeline will cross.

Energy Transfer’s most recent projection was for the pipeline to be complete by the end of 2016.


Tagged categories: Construction; Government; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Program/Project Management

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