WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Dakota Access Pipeline: Mississippi River

Mar 13, 2015

Dakota Access will have to run its proposed crude oil pipeline beneath the Mississippi River, which is a cause for concern for some in Keokuk.  That concern stems from the fact that the city relies on the Mississippi River for its most precious resource. 

The company says it will use a technique called horizontal drilling to run the pipeline about six feet beneath the river's bottom.  It has not decided how far from the river that process will begin.

The pipeline is expected to cross the river about five miles north of Keokuk's water plant, which treats about 12-million gallons of water from the river daily.

Bill Cole, General Manager with Keokuk Municipal Water Works, said the process of softening the water and removing silt and mud is pretty sophisticated. So if the pipeline developed a leak, he said the water plant could be forced to shut down because the oil could reach it in about an hour.

“One thing we are not capable of is treating for oil," Cole said. "Typically an oil like this would float and there is no treatment process to get it to settle and there’s no way to take it out. So probably rather than allow it to get into the plant, if it was coming toward your intakes you would choose to shut down.”

Keokuk Waterworks serves as the city's only water supplier.
Credit TSPR's Jason Parrott

Cole said if oil did get into the system, it could take days to flush it out and disinfect the treatment equipment. He said the city has enough water on hand to last about 18 hours, but after that, Keokuk would be dry.

“There’s no way to truck 12-million gallons of water into a community like Keokuk," Cole said. "You might do something to get some drinking water in and I’m sure that’s what would happen. You would get busy and start bringing in bottled water as fast as you could.”

Vicki Granado, Spokeswoman for Dakota Access, said the company is largely responsible for preventing that situation from happening.

“If there were something on the pipeline, as a company, we are responsible for the cleanup not only for any cleanup that needs to take place but also the cost associated with that,” Granado said.

Granado said the pipeline will be equipped with automatic shut off valves on both sides of the river that can be activated with the push of a button from a remote control center. But if it falters, someone would need to manually turn off the valves.

“The best response is the remote control which is immediate,” Granado said. “But if we do have to dispatch someone it all depends on where they are coming from. So it could be a matter of minutes, it could be upwards from there. But certainly we would be able to get someone to respond as quickly as possible. We will have personnel all along the pipeline that are operating and maintaining this.”

Bill Cole said the response time for his operations would depend on the time of year.

Lock & Dam 19 along the Mississippi River
Credit TSPR's Jason Parrott

“If it was under the ice, like it is this time of year, it would be very difficult to track and you would not know where it was and you really wouldn’t know whether it was hitting the plant until it’s there," Cole said. "During the summer you could probably follow the slick and get some feel for whether or not you needed to shut down."

There are five other pipelines running across the Mississippi River further north than the Dakota Access pipeline would run. One of the five is crude oil. Cole said Keokuk Municipal Water Works has never been impacted.

There was a leak in the early 1990’s, but the oil spilled on the banks, not directly into the river.

Dakota Access will need to file an emergency response plan with the state that will be accessible to the public. The plan will include information about how the company will respond in the event of a leak.