Opinion: Dakota Access Bakken Oil Pipeline Nearing Finish Line in Iowa

Bakken Pipeline, Zak Neumann
Protestors move to allow workers access to the worksite on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. — photo by Zak Neumann
By David Goodner

Construction of the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline along the Iowa portion of the route is nearing completion, according to a statewide construction report from Dakota Access filed with the Iowa Utilities Board late Wednesday.

The embattled $3.8 billion infrastructure project would move hydro-fracked crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to a refinery in Pakota, Illinois where it would then be shipped for export to foreign markets.

Construction is 100 percent complete in Jasper, Polk, Story, O’Brien, Sioux and Lyon counties. In southeast Iowa, 96 percent of the pipe has been lowered in Lee county and 80 percent backfilled.

However, there is still significant work to finish in Boone, Webster, Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, especially in the areas of stringing, welding, lowering and backfilling.

Line cleanup, restoration and testing must still occur in all counties.

“If current construction progress rates are able to be maintained, Dakota Access does not anticipate engaging in winter construction on any parcels in Iowa,” Dakota Access attorney Brant Leonard said in a cover letter to the utilities board dated Oct. 5. On at least two different occasions this summer, once in June and once in August, labor union leaders publicly said that work on the pipeline will be finished by Oct. 31.

Eighty-seven percent of the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline is finished in North Dakota, the Bizmarck Tribune reported Thursday, and virtually all construction is finished in South Dakota and Illinois.

Indigenous opposition to the pipeline has incited a nationwide social movement, successfully stalling construction in some areas of North Dakota, and helped radicalize some factions of the Iowa-based resistance. To date, more than 155 people have been arrested in Iowa for blocking construction of the pipeline.

But it is unclear if the civil unrest, “death by delay” strategy that has been so successful in North Dakota can be sustained in Iowa, albeit on a smaller scale, for much longer.

The Mississippi Stand protest camp in southeast Iowa was forced to retreat early Thursday after being evicted from county property along the Mississippi River. Demonstrators moved their tents and canopies away from the river boring entrance to a backup camp out of public view miles away from the drilling site. However, carloads of demonstrators from Standing Rock and across the Midwest continued to arrive Thursday, and the ranks of the camp are expected to swell throughout the weekend.

Organizers in central and northwest Iowa have also pivoted from blockading construction to targeting the banks underwriting the project. The bulk of the remaining pipeline construction in the coming weeks will take place in Boone County and northwest Iowa.

A group in Sioux City picketed outside a Wells Fargo branch last Saturday and a divestment rally and march is scheduled for Des Moines on Monday.

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Also on Monday, the University of Iowa Native American Student Association will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day with a #NoDAPL Decolonization Rally at 12:30 p.m. on the Pentacrest in Iowa City.

David Goodner is an organizer, journalist, and member of the Iowa City Catholic Worker.

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