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Local first responders ready in case of pipeline spill

Upcoming Sunoco-sponsored training fulfills fed regulation

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 11:58 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 12:01 p.m. CST
(File Photo)
With crude oil now flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, project operator Sunoco Pipeline L.P. is sponsoring a series of public awareness meetings from Oct. 17 through Nov. 16 to prepare first responders in the event of a leak or spill. The meetings fulfill one of the company’s federal requirements to operate DAPL.

Crude oil has been flowing underneath Jasper County through the Dakota Access Pipeline since June. According to owner Energy Transfer Partners, at peak production the 1,164-mile pipeline can deliver as much as 570,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota to a hub in Patoka, Ill.

With construction in Iowa complete and no reported issues since the pipeline has been put into use, DAPL has been largely out of the headlines. The underground pipeline might be out of sight and out of mind for many Iowans, but local first responders always have to be prepared in the event of a leak.

A series of 90-minute training courses were recently announced in cities throughout the state to assist county and city-level first responders along the 18-county, 343-mile Iowa pipeline route to refine their emergency plans and understand what resources are available.

The Coordinated Response Exercise (CoRE) pipeline training will be conducted by Paradigm Liaison Services in 18 locations. Based in Wichita, Kan., the company provides public awareness and damage prevention compliance services for pipelines like Dakota Access nationwide.

These public awareness meetings are being sponsored by DAPL operator Sunoco Pipeline, L.P. It fulfills a federal regulatory requirement by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, mandating the company offer training to local first responders.

According to a statement from Paradigm, CoRE training participants will work with local pipeline operators and gas distribution companies to pre-plan an emergency response. This includes understanding different agencies’ responsibilities in the event of an emergency, location of and purpose valves on the pipeline, who to notify and the availability of an emergency response plan.

Meetings in Iowa begin Oct. 17 in Council Bluffs. The closest meetings to Jasper County are at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Holiday Inn Ames Conference Center at ISU and 8:30 a.m. Nov. 2 at Iowa Valley Continuing Education Conference Center in Marshalltown.

While planning for a crude oil pipeline spill is new, Jasper County first responders frequently refresh on how to contain possible spills from other hazardous liquid pipelines.

Although primary clean-up would be handled by ETP and its subsidiaries, local first responders are the first line of defense between leaking hazardous materials, property owners and the environment. Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said the Iowa Pipeline Association offers twice-annual safety and response training for local fire, EMS, law enforcement and various other agencies to make sure they’re prepared in the event of a natural gas or other hazardous liquid discharge from a pipeline.

“Most agencies have a hazmat awareness level. The priority is to assess what’s going on and decide if there needs to be an evacuation and how far (away from the source) the evacuation should go,” Halferty said

Smaller, rural fire and EMS departments in Jasper County have fewer resources to combat a large spill, so in the last year first responding agencies have adopted a Tiered Emergency Assets and Management System (TEAMS). Each department has a TEAMS card which indicates a department’s precise procedure based on their individual resources in the event of a hazardous materials spill or leak. TEAMS can automatically activate other area first responders with a second or third “alarm” if needed.

In the event of a pipeline leak, Halferty said local first responders would assess variables such as weather and wind conditions and what material is leaking from the pipeline. If the material is burning, Halferty, who also volunteers with Mingo Fire Department, said first responders will likely allow the product burn off to continue while controlling any exposure to surrounding brush or buildings. First responders decide which company or agency to notify for pipeline shut off and clean-up.

Halferty said Jasper County first responders did receive training on how to respond to a potential crude oil leak or release from DAPL prior to the pipeline going into service. Jasper County has the most pipe in the DAPL’s Iowa leg, more than 34 miles. It enters the county in the northwest corner, passing closest to the communities of Mingo, Newton and Reasnor.

In the event of a large oil leak or spill from the pipeline, Jasper County Emergency Management would be the liaison between first responders on the ground and government agencies such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and PHMSA.

Jim Sparks is the coordinator of Jasper County EMA and the former Newton fire chief. He considers Newton-area first responders well prepared to deal with any hazardous liquid pipeline spill, including crude in a hypothetical release from Dakota Access. He said fire and safety officials would initially make sure the product does not get into any nearby waterways or adversely affect the public.

During and after the debate whether or not to build a crude oil pipeline through Iowa, environmental activists were quick to point out devastating affects of crude oil pipeline spills, including the 4,200 barrel Belle Fourche pipeline leak in North Dakota, just 150 miles from where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protested the DAPL construction. Despite the need to be prepared, Sparks thinks the technology, such as automatic shutoffs and sensors, makes the likelihood of a catastrophic leak in DAPL slim.

“My comfort level is as good with Dakota (Access) as it is with any other pipeline entity, whether it’s natural gas or any other material,” Sparks said. “With the safety precautions they have in place, the potential for a large release is slim. Is it possible, yes. Is it probable, no.”

Representatives from ETP did not respond to phone calls for comment as of presstime Tuesday.

To register for the local CoRE meeting, first responders can register online at

Contact Mike Mendenhall at

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