The first informational meeting in Fort Madison Monday on the proposed Bakken crude oil pipeline drew a big crowd. The meetings are designed to let landowners know what to expect as company representatives begin to call on them in the coming weeks seeking easements for the pipeline that would run diagonally across the state from North Dakota to Illinois. But the 350 or so people who turned out had plenty of questions and opinions about the pipeline itself.

Miriam Kashia of North Liberty is part of a group known as “100 Grannies for a Livable Future” which opposes the project. “The Bakken pipeline — any pipeline — the thing about pipelines is, it isn’t a matter of whether they’ll leak, it’s a matter of when they’ll leak or break,” Kashia says.

Energy Transfer Partners of Texas has proposed the pipeline, and vice-president Chuck Frye, says they will use several measures to ensure the pipeline is built properly. “Each welder before he does any work on the pipeline will have to pass a test, then each weld that’s made will be visually inspected. It will also be inspected by x-ray,” Frye says. He says the x-ray will help them find any hidden defects.

Frye says the company will be prepared for any issues once the pipeline is running. “We’ll have an emergency response plan in place with the federal government prior to the pipeline going into service,” Frye says. “And part of that emergency response plan will be regular drills that take place.”

Landowner Victor Conlee of Montrose asked how they’ll cut off the flow of oil in an emergency. “Are there or will there be any safety shutoffs and valves here in Lee County?,” he asked. Frye says they will have shutoff valves that can activated remotely up and down the pipeline. And he says they’ll monitor constantly including by aerial surveillance to look for evidence of leaks or construction activity around the pipeline so the company can investigate before there’s a problem.

Construction of the pipeline could create hundreds of jobs and pump millions into the Iowa economy. The president of southeast Iowa Building Trades, Ryan Drew, says workers will become available as construction on the new fertilizer plant in Fort Madison wraps up in the near future. “We can take employees that are now working at the Iowa fertilizer plant and refine those skills to put them to work on these projects,” Drew says.

The informational meetings continue today in other counties along the route, including in Fairfield in Jefferson County.