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Editorial: Lay the pipeline, take caution

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowans may eventually see the construction of a 1,100-mile-long underground pipeline, cutting diagonally across the heart of the state and allowing the transport of fuel resources between North Dakota and Illinois. The big keyword here is “may,” and while the idea, proposed by Energy Transfer Partners LP, still must go through a few approval steps — informing those along the path and persuading the Iowa Utilities Board to give the green light, to name a few — there’s still time to discuss the pros and cons of the venture.

For the time being, considering how massive an oil producer North Dakota has become, the Editorial Board views the proposed pipeline as a beneficial move for Iowa and the nation as a whole as it works toward energy independence, but Energy Transfer Partners and the state must work together to ensure that it is constructed and serviced with the utmost care and consideration for Iowa’s people and natural resources.

A little digging produces a long list of cases in which pipeline malfunctions have produced catastrophic results for people and the environment. One recent major case in the United States occurred in 2010 in the San Francisco area, in which a pipe 30 inches in diameter — the same size proposed for the Iowa project — carrying natural gas exploded, causing numerous deaths and injuries and destroying at least 38 homes. Shoddy workmanship received part of the blame, and while natural gas is different from crude oil, news outlets, almost without fail, mention that the proposed line would carry a “highly volatile” type of crude.

A much more recent incident relating to oil production, publicized less than a week ago in North Dakota, involved the spillage of drilling salt water on an American Indian reservation, and as the full report on ABCNews.com notes, the salt water was extremely more corrosive than seawater, and the rupture was estimated to have started around July 4. Again, it’s not a case of “highly volatile” oil leading to destruction, and it’s not the company in question for the Iowa project, but such a recent case — coming from the state the proposed pipe would originate — should raise concern over the safety of such prospects so close to home.

Also, it should go without saying, it’s worth mentioning that the health of Iowa’s environment is especially important to the state’s well-being — even in sparsely populated places. While the finished pipeline would only require a 50-foot-wide, fenced-off easement, spread out over the length of 1,100 miles, such a space requirement would roughly equate to over 6,500 acres of lost farmland — a little over a million bushels of corn or approximately 3 million gallons of ethanol, according to numbers from the Iowa Corn and Illinois Corn organizations, respectively. Of course, such an endeavor would require more than just rural land. 

Whether the lost farmland would be properly compensated relies heavily on whether Energy Transfer Partners properly pays for the land and whether the project employs enough Iowa workers. It also depends on how you value the growing of crops against the availability of domestically produced oil. Regardless, a malfunction in an underground pipeline would prove a horrible, damaging mess.

The suggested route for the line runs near such communities as Ames and Oskaloosa, so — to repeat the point — safety needs to be beyond paramount. Perhaps the pipeline could take detours around areas with at least mildly high populations. In the case of the ruptured brine pipeline in North Dakota, response time was painfully slow because of the lack of a system to send warnings in the case of an issue. While this different case doesn’t reflect how Energy Transfer Partners operates as a company, it’s the small, seemingly careless blunders such as this that lead to issues, something no state should be forced to handle.

The negative vibe of this editorial expresses the Editorial Board’s thoughts on the matter. As the United States works its way toward greater independence from foreign energy, and hopefully continues to work towards greener, renewable energy solutions, the pipeline from North Dakota is a necessary evil, one that should be cautiously welcomed and heavily scrutinized throughout the entirety of its existence.


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