Pipeline Resistance: Landowner Harassment and Field Damage

Yesterday I wrote an introduction to one of the key elements of the Buffalo Rebellion’s work that was discussed during a recent community call via Zoom, i.e. carbon (CO2) pipeline resistance. The call was to build upon this new coalition’s first year of work together, and plans for the future. Resistance to the proposed carbon pipelines has been and will continue to be a focus of the Rebellion.

During the community call I learned about a new report from the Oakland Institute titled The Great Carbon Boondogglewhich focuses on the resistance to Summit’s carbon pipeline here in the Midwest. The Introduction to the report was the subject of yesterday’s blog post: Buffalo Rebellion Community Call: Carbon Pipeline Resistance.

The next part of the report is FALSE PROMISES & HARASSMENT OF LANDOWNERS.

Who owns the land?

Before getting into that, we must continue to raise awareness about who owns the land. There is a long and complex history of ways Indigenous peoples globally were forced to cede (give up power or territory) their lands to settler colonists. There is a growing movement to return lands to native peoples. #LANDBACK

Settler colonialism is a structure that perpetuates the elimination of Indigenous people and cultures to replace them with a settler society.[1][2]  Some, but not all, scholars argue that settler colonialism is inherently genocidal.[3] It may be enacted by a variety of means ranging from violent depopulation of the previous inhabitants to less deadly means such as assimilation or recognition of Indigenous identity within a colonial framework.[4]


For the purposes of discussions related to pipelines now, landowner refers to those with legal title within the colonial framework of this country. The next section of the report is FALSE PROMISES & HARASSMENT OF LANDOWNERS. As that title suggests, there is usually an adversarial relationship between pipeline companies and landowners.

Starting in the summer of 2021, Summit Carbon Solutions began pursuing landowners in Iowa to sign voluntary easements — ceding parts of their land — so it could construct the Midwest Carbon Express. In August, Summit announced it had reached agreements with 1,400 landowners to obtain 2,200 tracts of land across the entire Midwest.[14] In Iowa, while Summit claims to have received easements from 700 landowners for 1,200 parcels of land,[15] it has acquired only an estimated 40 percent of the land needed for the pipeline route in the state.[16] On August 5, 2022, the company announced plans to begin filling for eminent domain against landowners.[17]

Landowners in Iowa, approached by Summit for voluntary easements, allege that the company has resorted to “harassment” tactics.[18] Despite informing Summit they were not interested, the company has failed to respect their decision. “My experience over the last year has been nothing short of a scenario of elder abuse, domestic terrorism, and psychological warfare,” one farmer shared.[19] Another landowner was called at least once a week over a three-month period by land agents, while others have received numerous emails, letters, and unannounced visits by land agents. When turned down, several land agents reportedly threatened that the land would be taken by eminent domain eventually and landowners might as well sign now. One farmer alleged “Good faith negotiations is not what is happening. They are exerting their will on the farmers and landowners. Preying on the elderly and widowed who don’t know any better.” [20]

The Great Carbon Boondoggle

First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

I first learned about the harassment of landowners during the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. One of the people on the March was a landowner and told stories of harassment by the land agents of the Dakota Access pipeline. Harassing her son as he walked home from school. Shining bright lights on her house during the night. We were walking along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline during that March, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Each time we walked over the pipeline, we stopped and held hands in a circle. Several people, including the landowner, broke down in tears. It was very emotional.

Emotions evoked as we stood over the Dakota Access Pipeline

The First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March was a precursor to the Buffalo Rebellion. The intent was for a small group of native and nonnative people to get to know each other as we walked and camped for eight days during that ninety-four mile sacred journey. So we could begin to know and trust each other, which would make it possible for us to work together on issues of common concern. That was very successful, and we have worked together on various things since. A number of us are part of the Buffalo Rebellion now.

In pursuit of voluntary easements, Summit is making promises that farmers believe it cannot fulfill. Many worry that if they sell portions of their land for the pipeline, construction will result in long term damage to their remaining farm. The company acknowledges that the construction will likely impact farming on areas of land adjacent to the pipeline and commits to cover lost crop yields — 100 percent the first year, 80 percent the second and 60 percent the third — and that it will pay to cover any other damages. [24] For farmers, these assurances are insufficient. One farmer with hilly land and particularly erodible soil, who invested lots of time and money in building terraces to retain water
in the soil, shared, “They’re going to be digging these trenches right through our terraces, which will destroy them. And they’re going to have to be redone. And they say they’ll do that…but it took us years to get them the way we want them.” Multiple farmers interviewed shared fears that once soil is dug up to make way for the pipeline, replacing it will not be as simple as Summit claims, given the complex nature of soil structure.

Another potential impact the pipeline may have on farmland concerns damage to drainage tiles, which play a crucial role in moderating the level of water held by the soil. While Summit maintains it will comply with requirements relating to land restoration — including temporary and permanent tile repair — farmers fear that damage to drainage tiles will lead to sinkholes in the soil on other areas of their land. A pervasive lack of trust in Summit to provide the necessary financial resources to repair drainage tile to the standard they require is common among many farmers.

A farmer explained, “My grandfather and my great uncle dug the tile on that farm by hand… And when they come in and say, oh, we’re gonna put this pipeline through here, we’re gonna fix the tile, though, that is not something that happens. You do not cut through tile, and have it fixed to the functionality it was before.” Another farmer remarked: “When you lay tile, the best practice is to never disturb it. And they’re going to, you know, rip the stuff wide open… Summit might say they’ll go the whole nine yards and repair your tile and put your dirt back just perfect. But there’s no way that they can promise that and back it up.”

These fears are informed in part by the damage caused by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), built through Iowa in 2017. Farmers, whose land DAPL crosses, shared that as a result of heavy machinery and digging, the soil composition has been “forever altered” and that “no amount of money is worth what they did to this ground.” [25] Damage to drainage tiles have also impacted crop yields for farmers, justifying fears raised by the potential impact of the Midwest Carbon Express. These claims are not just anecdotal. Research conducted by Iowa State University found that in the two years following completion of DAPL, yields of corn fell by 15 percent while soybean yields dropped 25 percent on land impacted by pipeline construction. [26] Concerns of lower crop yields, beyond the timeframe Summit will reimburse farmers, remain widespread among landowners.

The Great Carbon Boondoggle

During the First Nation-Famer Climate Unity March we saw the damage from construction of DAPL affecting water drainage from the fields.

Field drainage damaged by Dakota Access pipeline, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, 2018
Standing water, not draining because of damage from the Dakota Access pipeline construction. First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, 2018


14 Summit Carbon Solutions. “Summit Carbon Solutions Partners with Over 700 Iowa Landowners To Sign More Than 1,200 Voluntary Easements.” Press Release. August 5, 2022.
15 Ibid.
16 Food and Water Watch. “Summit Plans to File For Eminent Domain Against Landowners on 60% of IA Carbon Pipeline Route.” Press Release. August 5, 2022.
17 Ibid.
18 Direct communication with several Iowa farmers, names withheld. August 2022.
19 Direct communication with Iowa farmer, name withheld. August2022.
20 Ibid.
21 Beach, J. “Landowners facing lawsuits over surveyor access for Summit Carbon pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota.” AgWeek, September 7, 2022. https://www.agweek.com/news/landowners-facing-lawsuits-over-surveyor-access-for-summit-carbon-pipeline-in-north-dakota-south-dakota
22 Ibid.
23 Direct communication with farmers in Iowa. August–October 2022.
24 Summit Carbon Solutions. “Frequently Asked Questions.”
25 “Dakota Access Pipeline: 18 Months Later.” The Gazette, August 17, 2021
26 Brooker, J. “Pipelines keep robbing the land long after the bulldozers leave.” Grist, January 7, 2022.

Publisher: The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). You are free to share, copy, distribute, and transmit this work under the following conditions:
Attribution: You must attribute the work to the Oakland Institute and its authors.
Non-Commercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

This report was authored by Andy Currier, Eve Devillers, and Frédéric Mousseau and draws from the previous Oakland Institute publication: The Midwest Carbon Express: A False Solution to the Climate Crisis.
Special thanks to the landowners and Indigenous community members who shared their experiences. Several remain anonymous to protect their identities

The Great Carbon Boondoggle, Inside the Struggle to Stop Summit’s CO2 Pipeline, The Oakland Institute

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