DES MOINES — A Texas company looking to build a crude oil pipeline across Iowa expects to hold “open houses” in 17 to 19 affected counties in September to brief landowners and other interested parties about the project.

“This is a project that is certainly in the developmental stages, and we are moving through those developmental stages,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners L.P., the Dallas-based company proposing the project.

“The route at this point is still a work in progress,” she said. “We need to be able to do the civil surveys and the environmental surveys to be able to take all that data back and to look at what the most efficient pipeline would be that also minimizes any impacts that we can.”

According to a June news release, the company's board of directors has approved constructing a 1,100-mile pipeline through four states to transport crude oil from the Bakken/Three Forks production area in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., where shippers will be able to access multiple markets. The 30-inch diameter pipeline initially will provide 320,000 barrels per day based on customer demand.

Information provided by company representatives who met with Iowa governmental regulators this week indicated the pipeline would be buried so the top of the pipe is at least 48 inches deep or so the top of the pipe is two feet below any drain tiles, whichever is lower. The permanent easement will be 50 feet wide, but the temporary construction corridor will be 100 to 150 feet wide.

Company officials told staff from the Iowa Utilities Board, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Office of Consumer Advocate that the company has identified about 85 percent of the landowners who will be given 30 days notice of the informational meetings. They intend to give notice to all landowners in a corridor one-half mile wide, but that will be increased to one mile in areas involving sensitive crossings, such as rivers and major wetlands.

To date, Granado said more than 8,000 letters have gone out to Iowa landowners.

The company is attempting to identify existing right-of-way that could be used for the project that spans parts of North Dakota and South Dakota before running diagonally from Iowa's northwestern-most county to the southeast and then into Illinois, she said.

Granado said the company has not released a projected cost for the project, and she did not have an estimate on the number of Iowa acres that would be affected by the project but noted it would entail “a lot of farmland.”

“We haven’t broken it down yet in terms of dollar figures per state, and we haven’t released anything about what the project cost is at this point because it’s still a work in progress,” she said.

Granado did confirm Energy Transfer Partners is in the process of retaining Des Moines-based LS2 Group to help with local outreach in preparation for the informational meetings expected to take place in mid- to late September once the company has provided notice at least 30 days in advance according to state procedures.

The involvement of LS2 Group set off a “red flag” for members of Citizens for Community Improvement, a citizen action network that opposes the project, because the Des Moines firm has employees who formerly worked for Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration or have close ties to the governor.

Ross Grooters, an citizens group member who is a locomotive engineer from Pleasant Hill, said he is concerned efforts are under way to “grease the wheels” for a project that could see a formal petition filed with the Iowa Utilities Board later this year with plans to begin operations by the end of 2016.

“It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t look right,” said Grooters of the involvement of LS2 Group, which bills itself as a bipartisan public relations, public affairs and marketing firm.

LS2 Group partner Joe Shannahan said his firm frequently does consulting work on regulatory issues set forth by Iowa law, adding, “We don’t, as a rule, discuss past, present, or potential clients unless we are authorized to do so.”

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers confirmed the governor met with Energy Transfer Partners' chief compliance officer Greg Brazaitis last week to learn more about the proposal, but he added “the governor has not taken a formal position, either in favor or against, the proposed pipeline. The state of Iowa has a system in place for companies wishing to build such pipelines, and the governor has confidence in the process.”

Citizens for Community Improvement members launched a petition and Facebook page this week calling on Branstad to use his administration’s authority to stop the pipeline from being built.