With the Bakken Pipeline hearings set to begin Nov. 12 at the Boone County Fairgrounds, local focus has become fixed on the possible impact the pipeline could have on the land.
If built, the pipeline, which is being proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access LLC, would extend 1,100 miles from western North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., with 343 miles of the pipeline traveling through 18 counties in Iowa, including Story. The pipeline would initially, carry 320,000 barrels each day but could reach up to 450,000 barrels per day.
From the threat of hazardous spills to the effects on area agriculture, the fears of what the pipeline could mean for land owners and other members of the community seem to be wide ranging and varied.
Dr. Tom Fenton, professor emeritus in the agronomy department at Iowa State University, believes the threats facing the land begin at the ground level. Fenton has studied soil for more than 40 years and will be among the experts called to testify during the hearings in Boone.
Fenton was asked by a land owner and the Sierra Club to prepare a document that outlines the possible effects on soil when a pipeline is constructed. According to Fenton, those effects could be devastating and long lasting.
“It takes soils thousands of years to form and to get their properties, and so it’s a whole system that’s used to handling water and growing plants and that sort of thing, so when that’s disturbed, that’s not a good thing for soil productivity,” Fenton said. “It’s not something we would say would be a good thing for the agricultural community as far as growing crops.”
Among the greatest threats to soil conditions is the possibility of soil compaction. Soil compaction is the process of air being displaced from the pores between soil grains due to a stress being applied. According to Fenton, that stress can often come from construction equipment and the process of building a pipeline.
“And that’s not good because, if you push all the soil particles together, you lose soil structure,” he said.
There is near universal agreement that compaction of soils results in damage to the soil and decreases yield for some periods of time, according to Fenton’s research.
Fenton said that most construction crews have regulations that are meant to limit the amount of compaction during a project, but it has been his experience that those regulations are rarely enforced due to time restraints.
“They are usually under some kind of penalty, time penalty, if they’re not done. So, they work regardless of the condition of the soil,” Fenton said.
Construction projects, such as the installation of a pipeline, often contribute to a reduction in soil fertility as well, according to Fenton.
“Well, once you disturb the soil, it’s pretty hard to get it back exactly how it was and the top soil is usually the most fertile part of the soil and once you disturb it, it usually gets contaminated,” Fenton said.
If fertility is reduced, whether it’s due to contaminated top soil, disruption of water movement within the soil, change in soil temperature due to the presence of the pipeline or any of the other possible issues that Fenton believes could come from the pipeline’s construction, it could mean significant damage to the local farmland, agricultural industry and yield farmers get from their crops, according to Fenton.
If that soil is damaged, it could take hundreds of years to correct, Fenton said.
Jerold Fitzgerald, Story County soil and water commissioner, said local farmers can’t risk that kind of damage to their land.
“It may only be so wide and cut across the field but that area that is affected, will be affected for years,” Fitzgerald said. “That soil’s not going to produce like it did before, so the farmer is going to be losing yield through that area.”
Fitzgerald said he doesn’t understand why the pipeline is necessary if it could have this kind of impact on the land.
“I just see that it could be detrimental to the way of life of the people, as far as how they farm, when they farm and the productivity of the soil,” he said.
Fitzgerald added that if the pipeline was going to be a good thing for local farmers, or be in the best interest for Iowans, the threat of eminent domain would not be necessary to get landowners to sign on to the project.
“Well, I’ve never liked to be threatened about anything, and so that immediately puts up a red flag for me. Why are they threatening people, instead of trying to workout obstacles so the land that’s being affected has been approved by the farmers?” Fitzgerald said.
These issues and several others will be discussed at the hearings beginning Nov. 12 in Boone. A copy of Fenton’s concerns about the impact on soil conditions can be found at www.nobakken.com. A spokesperson for Dakota Access was contacted for comment on the possible impact on soil conditions, but chose not to comment on the concerns.
This article was written by Austin Harrington from Ames Tribune, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.