Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day 19

Monday, March 23, 2015 – Farrar, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

Kenneth Larkin

Kenneth Larkin

I’ve seen plenty of “Gas Pipeline” markers during the course of this walk. Today, I saw my first “Oil Pipeline” marker – on the front lawn of a well-kept farm near Cambridge, Iowa. I wondered about that as I knocked on the door. I was greeted by Kenneth Larkin, and after introducing myself said, “I notice you’ve already got a pipeline running across your property.”

“No,” said Kenneth. “I’ve got five! One carries propane. Two that used to transport LP gas now run fiber optic. The fourth one, the one marked ‘Oil Pipeline,’ doesn’t really carry oil. It carries distillates – gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene – and they’re all running through the same pipe with a slug of water in between.”

I had no idea you could transport different fuels through the same pipeline at the same time, merely separated by water. Before Kenneth could tell me about the fifth pipeline, I had to ask:

“So, you’re pretty accustomed to pipelines. I suppose it doesn’t bother you to have one more running across your property?”

“No!,” he said. “I don’t like the pipe I’ve got. They’re dangerous. We had an explosion once.”

He went on to explain in great detail – and with evident mastery of the technical aspects – what caused the explosion to occur. I got out my computer and frantically tried to keep up with him. Failing miserably, I piece together the story as best I can:

The pipeline company takes electricity off the high line. They run it through a box with a wire that goes underground to where it’s attached to the pipeline. That reverses the polarity of the ions in the soil, and the pipeline grabs hold of those ions and expands. But the polarity reversal also eats holes in the copper tubing to Kenneth’s propane tank, and follows a line into the house where the propane meets up with the water heater. When the water heater kicks on . . .  KABOOM!

“Someone could have been killed if they’d been near the water heater,” mused Kenneth. “My wife, Judy, who has since passed away, had nick-knacks in the window and the explosion blew them clear out to the road ditch.”

I’m still reeling from Kenneth’s story when he says, “Nope. I don’t want this oil pipeline. 

I think that wind and solar are two of the bases that we should pursue more of. Why do we need fossil fuels? This country has advanced so far, but we’re still using more and more oil.”

In just over 30 minutes, this guy has become my latest hero. He’s against the pipeline for personal reasons AND gets the broader social and environmental concerns.

But I want closure on the explosion. “Did the company compensate you for damages?” I ask.

“Well, we just told them all we wanted was to have the house fixed,” said Kenneth. “They drug their feet and they drug their feet and they drug their feet. Close to a year passed, and our lawyer said we might just as well sue them. The day before we were supposed to go to court, I never will forget. This big, black Cadillac sedan pulls in, and three guys in three-piece business suits out of Tulsa, Oklahoma get out. They pull out one of those big check books. I showed them the bills for fixing the house, and they just wrote us a check, and that was that.”

A happy finish to a story that could have ended much worse. But I am still not satisfied.

“What about that fifth pipeline,” I probe.

“Oh, that one belongs to the Koch Brothers,” concluded Kenneth. “It’s empty.”

“Yeah, I know that,” I said. “Do you have any idea why it’s empty?”

Kenneth tells me about a conversation he had with a Magellan Pipeline Company worker. The guy told him that oil running through that pipeline was a product of fracking. It had salt in it. “That salt was supposedly rusting the seams on the inside of the pipes, and that’s why they’re not using them.” {Go to my Facebook page to see the video of Kenneth talking about it.}

I asked Kenneth if he felt we could stop this new pipeline from being built. “You don’t have enough money to stop them, and Branstad has already sold us down the water,” said Kenneth. “But if the company is not allowed to use eminent domain, then they can be stopped.”

“And as far as I’m concerned,” said Kenneth, “they ain’t coming on my property.”

Please like & share: