Expert witnesses provide testimony at Iowa Utility Board pipeline hearing
by Renée Brich,
FORT DODGE — Attorney Tim Whipple introduced four expert witnesses in the Iowa Utility Board’s evidentiary hearing for the Summit Carbon Solution pipeline permit last week.
Whipple is providing legal representation for Shelby, Kossuth, Emmet, Dickinson, Franklin, Woodbury and Wright Counties. Witnesses included former professor of law and former director of Drake University’s Agriculture Law Center Professor Neil D. Hamilton, who discussed zoning ordinances; Dr. Matt Liebman, Professor of Agronomy and the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, who is a soil and soil compaction expert; Cole Kruizenga of ISG Field Services, who provided testimony regarding soil compaction studies; and Jack Willingham, who was the Yazoo County, Mississippi Emergency Management Director when a Denbury Inc. carbon dioxide pipeline ruptured approximately a mile from the town of Satartia, Mississippi on February 22, 2020.
Willingham gave a first hand account of what transpired in Mississippi that day.
“The call center was flooded with calls,” Willingham said as he described the aftermath of the rupture in Satartia in his testimony Thursday. “People were in a panic. People couldn’t breathe. They wanted help and wanted to know what to do.”
Once on scene, he said emergency response teams found people short of breath and disoriented.
“They were going to die,” Willingham said. “Their respirations had dropped down to nothing, if it wasn’t for my responders throwing them all on a UTV and getting them out of that area.”
“We moved out 200 people,” he said, which included the 56 residents within the Satartia city limits. Willingham said the residents weren’t able to return home for over 14 hours after the pipe ruptured.
“The highest concentrations of CO2 found at that time were inside the residences,” he said. “The houses had to be aired out before we let them back in.”
When questioned if sheltering in place would be a better option, Willingham said, “If they had been sheltering in place, they still would’ve been at dangerous levels above what is supposed to be accepted.”
When asked if he felt they were now prepared to handle future incidents, Willingham said, “I feel like after being the only major incident in the country, I am now as prepared as anybody.” He also said after the rupture, Denbury assisted the county with training exercises.
“We train a lot better. We put together a class for our first responders, telling them what to expect and how to respond. We are much better prepared than we were before,” Willingham said.
Willingham also noted the importance of transparency needed between the pipeline companies and the communities.
“The people need to know what’s going to happen. The responders need to know what’s going to happen. That’s who they need to think of.”
“Stop telling people it’s not dangerous. It is dangerous,” Willingham said, noting while the chances of a pipeline rupture might be low, what happened in Satartia proved it is a possibility.
When asked if he had any recommendations for pipeline companies, Willingham said, “Have everybody prepared. Build a relationship. Embed yourself in the community and stop B.S.ing each other.”
“It’s the only way it’s going to work.”
Steve Kenkel, Chairman of the Shelby County Board of Supervisors, said he was pleased with the information provided by the four men. “The experts did a great job. Hopefully, the Utility Board is listening,” Kenkel said.
The hearing will resume Tuesday, September 19, after recessing for the weekend. Testimonies this week will include Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison) on Tuesday. Shelby County landowners Julie Kaufman and Rick Chipman are both on the witness list for Wednesday.