NEWTON, Iowa -- Three fires that scorched heavy equipment being used to build the Bakken oil pipeline — which investigators believe to be arsons — won’t slow construction, the developer has vowed.
Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said his office was investigating two fires reported there Monday. The fires caused an estimated $1 million in damage to construction equipment.
“We believe it was intentionally set. We are investigating them as arson cases,” Halferty said.
He said fire crews responded at 5:41 a.m. Monday to a fire west of Newton. A second incident was reported at 7:23 a.m. after workers found charred equipment at a site east of Reasnor.
Alex Murphy, a spokesman for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said the state was investigating a third fire in Mahaska County.
That fire, reported about 2:15 a.m. Sunday a few miles north of Oskaloosa, Iowa is estimated to have caused between $600,000 and $800,000 in damage, Murphy said.
Murphy said arson is the suspected cause.
No arrests have been made in any of the cases, officials said. Halferty said he encourages the public to provide any information possibly related to the fires.
Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for pipeline developer Dakota Access, said the fires will not change the timeline.
“Americans burning American made equipment which is owned and operated by American companies, employing American union workers, working on a pipeline owned and operated by an American company for transporting crude oil produced in America for American consumers is a shameful act by a group of people trying to disrupt our country’s energy security and independence,” she said. “We have increased security along the route and are actively pursuing the situation with law enforcement. If caught, we will prosecute to the maximum extent allowed by law, both criminally and civilly. We will not tolerate this kind of activity, which is a safety hazard to all concerned.”
Chad Carter, vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said Local 234 has members working in Mahaska and Jasper counties.
Destroying construction equipment impacts workers — not the pipeline, Carter said.
“That’s who it’s harming the most, members and residents of Iowa,” he said. “And I hate to say, but the pipeline has all the permits so it’s going to be built. So let’s let members of Local 234 and Iowa residents get to work.”
Dakota Access last week received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for the final permits necessary. Construction began earlier this year on other portions of the pipeline.
The $3.8 billion, 1,168 mile underground pipeline will begin in the Bakken region of North Dakota, cross a section of South Dakota, traverse 18 counties in Iowa and end in Illinois.
The route crosses Iowa on a diagonal, from northwest to southeast.