Why the Iowa portion of Midwest oil pipeline could be delayed

New concerns over the acquisition of land in the path of the Dakota Access's Bakken Pipeline, as well as environmental and historical questions, could delay construction of the $3.8-billion Midwest project in Iowa.

Nati Harnik/AP/File
Workers unload pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois in May, 2015.

The construction of a crude oil pipeline that would cross the Midwestern United States has hit a roadblock in Iowa amid lawsuits challenging the eminent domain process used to secure lands for the pipeline’s route.

Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is behind the Bakken Pipeline project. It's a conduit that would run underground from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields to Patoka, Ill. carrying 570,000 barrels of oil per day.

According to The Des Moines Register, lawsuits were filed Friday by landowners of two of the 1,295 properties along the pipeline’s path in Iowa. Dakota Access has yet to voluntarily acquire the legal rights to 168 of these properties. Marian and Verdell Johnson and Marvin and Bonnie Zoch were the landowners who asked the Cherokee County District Court to suspend condemnation proceedings on their properties, according to their lawyer, Bill Hanigan, until the court could decide whether Dakota Access was entitled to eminent domain access to their property.

Work on the line in Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota has already begun, while the Utilities Board has yet to authorize its construction in Iowa.

Other similar suits were recently submitted in Polk County District Court in Iowa by landowners who contended that the Iowa Utilities Board’s authorization of eminent domain to Dakota Access was neglectful.

“Landowners have begun receiving notices of the county compensation meetings,” Mr. Hanigan said in a statement, according to the Register. “Unless suspended, the meetings will result in Dakota Access taking possession of the farmland. We are asking Iowa's courts to suspend these actions until after a full hearing on the merits of each landowner's case.”

“We expect additional lawsuits will be filed in additional counties in the coming weeks,” he said.

A final ruling could come down to a decision over whether federal eminent domain laws, which allow the government to private appropriate private land for public use – for “just compensation,” per the Fifth Amendment – would apply to Dakota Access, which is not a public utility.

The $3.8-billion project could also see delays due to a recently discovered archaeological site that, if related to native American culture, could force the pipeline route to be detoured.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, brought in to assess the project’s impact on the local environment and historical sites, also has yet to issue permits which would approve the pipeline’s construction at river crossings, reports the Associated Press. The Corps said the permitting process could still take 60 to 120 days, and that the potential native American find could cause further delays if the pipeline’s route needs to be changed.

The line’s impediment in Iowa is the latest in a series of setbacks for large-scale energy transfer projects. This past month, work on the Constitution Pipeline was stopped because of water quality permit problems along the natural gas pipeline’s 124-mile run through the northeast. And the Northeast Direct Pipeline was put on hold because of contract insufficiencies.

A decision regarding a delay of the pipeline’s Iowa route is upcoming from the state utility board, with condemnation meetings in Cherokee County currently set for June 13. The Register reported that Dakota Access had said it would wait to begin construction until the permitting process was complete, but recently asked the Board to start working along the property not under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps.

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