NEWS

Oil pipeline could transport 400,000 barrels a day under Boone farmland

Kevin Haas

Work is under way on a massive pipeline project that will have the ability to pump 400,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil underneath Boone County farmland each day.

The county’s role in the project is small, just an additional 24-mile strip of land on a project that with more than 620 miles of new pipeline. But it will bring a bustle of activity to the normally serene rural portions of the county.

More than 50 property owners, the vast majority of which are farmers, will have their crops temporarily pushed aside for pipe work.

“Growing up here and appreciating the beauty of Boone County, especially here where we are nice and quiet, I never envisioned something like that coming along,” said Ben Doetch, a farmer in northern Boone County.

New pipeline expansion runs from Superior, Wis., to Patoka. The first stage of the work from Superior to Delavan, Wis., was completed in April. Stage 2, which moves through Rock, Boone and DeKalb counties on its way to Livingston began in June.

Crews at the Illinois-Wisconsin state line near Beaverton Road began stringing pipeline last week on the approximately 90-foot-wide, 24-mile-long Boone County work space.

“What’s driving this is that the refiners here in the Midwest view this crude oil coming out of western Canada as a more secure, reliable and economical source,” said Dave Henderson, community relations consultant for Enbridge Energy Company, the Canadian group behind the project.

The two-pipeline project is expected to be online by April 2009. One 42-inch diameter pipe will pump the crude oil south from Canada to central Illinois. A second 20-inch diameter pipe will run north to points where it is used to facilitate the speedy transport of crude oil.

The pipeline will move up to 400,000 barrels a day of crude oil from western Canada to central Illinois when it’s done. Capacity could increase to 1.2 million barrels a day if more pumping stations are added.

Canada’s crude oil sands are considered second only to the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, Henderson said. Instability in the Middle East and a growing worldwide demand have fueled the search for fuel.

“This presents a huge world-class resource that is right here in North America and accessible to the United States by pipeline,” Henderson said.

About 500 workers from both companies across the nation and local unions will be employed by this leg of the project. Glen Turpoff, executive director of the Northern Illinois Building Contractors Association, said it should give the local economy a one-time boost.

“Frankly, it couldn’t come at a better time, after we’ve had down years recently in construction,” Turpoff said.

Henderson says the workers stay in local hotels and dine at local eateries while the project is going on.

“Where the pipeline goes, there is a tremendous surge in economic activity,” he said.

The environmental effects, more than the economic ones, are the bigger concern for farm-rich Boone County, said Mike Foutch, a resource conservationalist with Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“In an agricultural area like ours, where we have good soils, the main concern is to protect those soils,” Foutch said.

The soil and water district will survey soil erosion and sediment control during the construction. It’s the largest project of its kind that the county’s soil and water district has monitored, Foutch said.

Design, construction, maintenance and operation of the pipeline are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Topsoils and subsoils are pushed to the side while construction is ongoing. It’s the preferred technique because it does the least damage to topsoils, Foutch said.

“That should be much better than having all the soils mixed together and compacting them with big heavy equipment,” Foutch said. “This is what they do for a living. That doesn’t mean everything will go perfect, but they seem to have the right technique down for putting the pipeline.”

Farmers will get their crops back in time. Enbridge bought easements from landowners and will compensate farmers for any damage to crops or other costs.

Doetch, a farmer and environmentalist, said he’s uneasy about having an oil pipeline run 5 feet below his corn and soy crops, the mandated minimum depth for the pipeline to run underneath agricultural land. The project will slice through the west end of his 120 acres.

The wind-energy proponent said he was surprised that county residents didn’t fight the pipeline project, especially given the large resistance given to wind turbines.

Public records show that multiple farmers, including Doetch, went to court with Enbridge for a battle over eminent domain. Doetch’s case and about a dozen others were dismissed, presumably for when matters were settled out of court. Records show Doetch’s case was one of the last dismissed.

“I busted my butt to buy this farm, build my house and everything else. Then, out of the blue, they came and touched everything I had worked my whole life for,” Doetch said. “It was strange, I knew we were just chump change in the big picture of things.”

Staff writer Kevin Haas may be reached at 815-544-3452 or khaas@rrstar.com.