How Many Voluntary Easements Has Energy Transfer Partners Signed With Iowa Landowners For The Bakken Oil Pipeline?

By David Goodner

Texas-based Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners claims to have signed voluntary easement agreements with nearly 60 percent of Iowa landowners in the path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline which would transport Bakken crude through the state. But a DeSmog investigation into publicly accessible information has verified less than half that number, casting doubt on Energy Transfer’s claims.

Energy Transfer Partners owns the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, set to carry up to 575,000 barrels of oil per day obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin through North and South Dakota and Iowa and into the southern Illinois town of Patoka. The proposed project has faced stiff resistance from environmentalists, farmers and other Iowans along the proposed route and across the state.

There are 1295 tracts in Iowa along the proposed route. We calculate by tracts as each tract needs an easement agreement and that does not necessarily correspond one-for-one with landowners,” Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, told DeSmog. “We currently have voluntary easement agreements executed for nearly 60 percent of the total number of tracts in Iowa.”

But publicly accessible documents held with Iowa Land Records, “a primary source for information about recorded real estate documents in Iowa” and the “official statewide website sponsored by elected county officials,” shows that only 362 easements have been signed with Dakota Access as of June 17, half the number Granado claims and less than a third of the total of the estimated 1,500 directly impacted landowners in Iowa.

John Murray, a spokesman for the Northwest Iowa Landowners Association, an organization representing Iowa farmers along the pipeline route in eight northwest Iowa counties, says Granado’s stated claims don’t add up with his own research or what he is hearing on the ground in his community. 

Figures provided by Murray to DeSmog, and later verified with Iowa Land Records, show that only 106 landowners in eight northwest Iowa counties have signed easements with Dakota Access.

These signed easements account for less than 25 miles of the 132 miles of pipeline needed to run through northwest Iowa. If built, the pipeline would cross a total of about 343 miles of Iowa farmland in 18 contiguous counties.

If Dakota Access wants to assert that they have 60 percent of recorded easements in NW Iowa, which would be about 100 miles, I would call that baloney,” said Murray.

Although Murray acknowledged that there is a lag time between when an agreement is signed and when it is filed with county officials and uploaded to state databases, he said he was skeptical that there could be hundreds of unrecorded easements and challenged Energy Transfer Partners to prove their claims.

What I would say to Dakota Access’ argument about unrecorded easements is this: File your paperwork and let us verify your numbers,” Murray said.

While many farmers are adamantly opposed to the pipeline running through their property under any circumstances, even some landowners open to negotiating with the company have refused to sign what they consider to be a bad deal.

Our group has investigated and, in fact, attempted to negotiate with pipeline executives on the various problems with the proposed easements,” Murray said. “While Dakota Access has given us some lip-service in these negotiations, in my opinion, they have not negotiated in good faith. We have provided them with proposed addendums to the easements which have largely been ignored.”

The Iowa Utilities Board has scheduled a two-week hearing on the issue beginning in November.

These kinds of numbers should not be enough for the Iowa Utilities Board to grant eminent domain,” said R.G. Schwarm, a lobbyist with the Iowa Farmland Owners Association, a statewide organization representing Iowa farmers opposed to the pipeline. “This is not a project that warrants the ultimate hammer of government coming down on the heads of Iowa’s hardworking family farmers.”

An Iowa Poll conducted by the Des Moines Register in March found that 74 percent of Iowans are opposed to the use of eminent domain for the Dakota Access Pipeline project. 

I, for one, will never, ever sign anything to do with this pipeline,” said Hughie Tweedy, a self-described libertarian farmer from Lee County in southeast Iowa and a leading voice against the pipeline. “There can be no ‘just compensation’ for the desecration of sacred ground. I have drawn a line and it will not be crossed.”

Photo Credit: KrechOksana | Shutterstock