Bakken pipeline seeks official approval

Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 21, 2015

The Texas-based company seeking to build an oil pipeline spanning the state of Iowa has applied for approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, according to the Des Moines Register.

Dakota Access, LLC, a division of Texas company Energy Transfer Partners, is seeking permission to build an underground pipeline that would run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Ill., where it would then be connected to distribution systems across the country. The application, filed Tuesday, has set the stage for an ongoing battle between oil companies and Iowa farmers and environmental experts.

Among the concerns over the project is the potential for disastrous spills, like one that leaked 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Cities like Glendive, Mo., for which the Yellowstone is the primary water supply, have had to have fresh water hauled in on semi trailers since the accident.

In informational meetings held over the month of December, Iowa farmers spoke out against the pipeline, concerned that the project could not only cut yields but also interfere with drainage systems, as Iowans scramble to tackle the state’s growing agricultural runoff problem.

Not least among these concerns is the pipeline’s significance as a fossil fuel system at a time when Iowa is trying to transition to clean energy. The effects of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels is expected to more heavily impact Iowa’s agriculture industry over the next few decades.

Oil companies working in the Brakken oil fields are trying to find solutions to the railroad congestion problems caused by the oil surge, leading to a backlog in exports like grains, which share the rails with oil.

On the Radio: Iowa ahead of new smog standards

The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)
The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at early assessments of Iowa’s ozone emissions, which suggest that the state is one step ahead of upcoming new emission standards. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Ozone standards

Iowa is one step ahead of new national ozone emission standards.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft proposal to drastically reduce ozone emissions from power plants and other sources by 2025. All 99 of Iowa’s counties are set to meet the new standards, according to data collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee earlier this year recommended ozone levels be reduced to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, down from the current practice of 75 parts per billion.

Iowa already meets the EPA standards, with monitoring stations showing average ozone levels between 61 and 69 parts per billion. The Iowa DNR supplies data to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which provides air quality conditions in real time.

For a link to the Air Quality Index, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Sea levels rising faster than previously expected

These signs indicate how the coast line is expected to move inward at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Australia. (go_greener_oz/Flickr)
These signs indicate how the coast line is expected to move inward at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Australia. (go_greener_oz/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 16, 2015

A new study by researchers at Harvard University and Rutgers University finds that the earth’s sea levels are currently rising at faster rate than in the past.

The study – published in this week’s edition of the journal Nature – found that between 1900 and 1990 projected sea level increases were overestimated by as much as 30 percent. The original estimates expected sea levels to rise between 1.5 and 1.8 millimeters per year during most of the 20th century while the actual figure was closer to 1.2 millimeters annually. Throughout the entire 20th century sea levels rose by about five inches, an inch less than the previous estimate of six inches. This increase in sea levels during the 20th century amounts to enough water to fill three billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The report also points out that previous estimates for sea levels rises after 1990 are now estimated to be higher than previously expected. Since 1990 sea levels have been rising by about 3 millimeters per year much of which can be attributed to the “quickening thaw of ice.”

Prior to the advent of satellite technology, sea levels were monitored using tide gauges which were “unevenly dotted around the coastlines of the world.” Researchers said that this old method did not include measurements from non-coastal parts of the ocean and that this led to the overestimated figures.


Iowa Environmental Focus: Best of 2014


As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some of the Iowa Environmental Focus’s most shared and talked-about blog posts of the year. These are the posts that helped spur conversation on important environmental topics in Iowa and around the world. Thanks for your support, and Happy New Year!

Climate and health experts discuss effects of climate change on Iowans – The Iowa Environmental Focus visited the 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum in October, to learn how climate change is affecting Iowa’s air quality, water quality and public health.

Large solar energy project coming to Mitchell county in northern Iowa – This project could be one of the largest in the state, with 1,200 solar panels.

Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans – The 4th annual Iowa Climate Statement was released in October, highlighting the health effects of climate change on Iowans. The blog  took photos and video of the event, which took place at the Des Moines statehouse.

University of Iowa research examines health effects of frac sand mining – A look into the research on the health effects of frac sand mining, or fracking, in Iowa.

MIT engineers discover way to create efficient solar panels using lead recycled from car batteries – The future of solar power could lie in old car batteries, according to engineers at MIT.

Grinnell College blown off course on campus wind energy project  – The Iowa Environmental Focus covered a setback at Grinnell College, where plans for a 5.1-megawatt wind farm were halted in October.

Proposed oil pipeline would run through 17 Iowa counties – An 1,100-mile oil pipeline was proposed to run from Lyon County in the northwest corner of Iowa to Lee County in the southeast.

Ottumwa meat plant is Iowa’s top waterway polluter – A report that showed, among other concerns, that one Iowa meat plant dumped three million pounds of chemicals into the Lower Des Moines River in 2012.

Iowa’s Allamakee county looks to implement nation’s strictest fracking ordinance – In June, the Allamakee County (Iowa) Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve what looks to be “the most strict frac sand mining ordinance in the nation.”

Hemp advocates announce 6th Annual Hemp History Week – This event, taking place in 2015, aims to bring attention to hemp as an environmentally sustainable crop with both nutritional and medical uses.

Study: Climate change expected to hamper wheat yields

A wheat field in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. (Evan Leeson/Flickr)
A wheat field in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. (Evan Leeson/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 23, 2014

Rising global temperatures caused by climate change is expected to reduce wheat yields according to a recent report.

The report “Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production” was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study’s lead author is Senthold Asseng, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida.

The researchers found that wheat yields are expected to be reduced by 6 percent for every 1 degree Celsius the temperature rises. Estimates show that global temperatures are expected to rise between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This temperature change and its affect on wheat harvesting is expected to have a significant impact on food demand as the world population may be as high as 12 billion by 2050.

Wheat is used to produce a wide range of goods from bread to beer and is grown in nearly every state in the country. Roughly 70 percent of wheat grown in the U.S. is used for food products, 22 percent is used for animal feed and residuals, and the remaining eight percent is used for seed.

Kansas leads the country in wheat production followed closely by North Dakota. Iowa produced 1,092,000 bushels of wheat in 2013 which amounted to less than one percent of wheat production nationwide. Wheat was the primary crop planted by early settlers in Iowa and the Hawkeye State ranked second nationwide in wheat production prior to 1870.

Report finds majority of UI students support action to address climate change

Students from three different courses at the University of Iowa participated in a survey to gauge their understanding of climate change. (Wikimedia)
Students from three different courses at the University of Iowa participated in a survey to gauge their perception of climate change. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 16, 2014

A report by a University of Iowa professor found that 94 percent of students surveyed responded “yes” when asked if they believe the science on climate change is strong enough to take action.

Maureen McCue – an adjunct assistant professor with the UI International Programs and coordinator of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility – surveyed 65 students in three courses: Promoting Health Globally (PHG) [31], Environmental Justice (EJ) [17], and Education in the Third World (ETW) [14] as well as three students from the health physiology lab. Issues regarding climate change were addressed in PHG and EJ while “no specific orientation to climate” was expected for students in ETW and the health physiology lab.

Forty-two students responded that they had been affected by climate change. Many cited similar reasons for how they had been affected: storms/floods/droughts experienced by friend or family [14], indirect experiences (higher priced foods, poorer air quality, observing wild weather fluxes) [8], and awareness about effects of climate change and feeling of being overwhelmed [14].

Respondents were also asked what they feel is an effective way to halt climate change based on six categories: lifestyle (11.8%), more education (27.1%), positive interventions and support (16%), political/legal remedies (16%), social/community action (10%), and nothing (>1%). Students also provided responses such as “we need new sources of energy,” “attitudes need to change”, and “energy providers need to change.”

Dr. McCue concluded that “[w]hile the numbers are small and subject to all the problems of small studies, there were some interesting outcomes,” particularly the overwhelming support that climate change is an issue that must be addressed. However she also noted that there were fewer trends evident among the grad students who responded to the survey.

For more information or to provide comments or critiques about the survey contact Dr. McCue at

Survey Demographics

  • Females: 43
  • Males: 22


  • Undergrad: 57
  • Grad Student: 8


  • Iowans: 35
  • Not from Iowa: 30 (International: 9)

Journal features ISU research on agriculture and climate change

This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)
This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 11, 2014

The most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation includes several articles by Iowa State University researchers focused on ways that climate change is affecting agriculture.

Researchers and graduate students in from Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project contributed to most of the articles in the recent issue. The project, known simply as the Sustainable Corn Project, is based at Iowa State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 20 reports in the recent journal issue, 14 were authored by researchers with the Sustainable Corn Project.

One of the reports analyzed the effects cover crops have on nitrous oxide emissions, concluding that cover crops increased nitorus oxide levels in 60 percent of published observations. The authors point out that certain variables could have affected the reaction between the cover crops and nitrous oxide emissions including “fertilizer N(itrogen) rate, soil incorporation, and the period of measurement and rainfall.”

The Sustainable Corn Project is a collaboration between 10 Midwestwen land-grant universities: Iowa State University, Lincoln University (MO), Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois,  University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and University of Wisconsin. Roughly 160 scientists, engineers, educators, and students work with more than 200 farmers on this project.