The Ignored Realities of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project

During the eight weeks since the Obama Administration put a freeze on issuing the final easement for the Dakota Access pipeline — a 1,000 foot portion of the 1,172 mile project — the emotionally charged situation on the ground in North Dakota has been fueled by rampant mischaracterizations of law enforcement activities and gross errors of fact on the pipeline itself. While this creates a spectacle for news coverage, it endangers our civil discourse and the future of private infrastructure development in the United States.

Once operational, the pipeline would transport 450,000 barrels of light sweet crude oil per day from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to refineries in Illinois. As of today, the $3.8 billion privately financed pipeline is more than 75 percent complete. And the truth, while inconvenient, is that the pipeline has been approved by all four states it runs through and the federal government — having met or exceeded all required environmental and cultural laws and regulations in those jurisdictions — and at no point does it cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. And, despite the misreporting from coast to coast, the pipeline was never slated for a northern route near Bismarck, ND. Although several routes were initially considered, that route — which would’ve been 11 miles longer — was quickly eliminated for several reasons including its topography, the number of easements that would be required, and the need for it to cross 27 additional waterways.

Getting the approvals for the preferred and current route was not an easy task. Starting more than 800 days ago, the Army Corps of Engineers and the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, engaged in hundreds of consultations with locally elected officials, land owners, and other private citizens and, in addition, at least 389 consultations with 55 Native American tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux. Throughout these consultations Native American tribes and other citizens were encouraged to express their concerns or support for the pipeline. And recognizing the historic and cultural significance of the Midwest, professional archaeologists surveyed the proposed pipeline routes to inform the Corps and help direct the company away from culturally sensitive areas.

Because of tribal engagement, the pipeline route was altered 140 times in North Dakota alone to avoid areas of tribal significance and, for much of the North Dakota route, it is collocated with a 30-year old natural gas pipeline to ensure that the pipeline’s path stays on well-trodden land and away from potential cultural sites. The company has worked with landowners and community leaders to obtain easements for more than 1,100 miles of the project, and with the federal government for the approximately 35 miles of the pipeline route under its control. The final easement was approved for drafting by the Army Corps before the Administration put it on hold.

Over the past few weeks the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has lost two attempts in federal court to stop the pipeline. The Courts held that the Army Corps followed the law in issuing its permits and that construction could continue. Now, having lost in trial court, the tribe buoyed by the Environmental Left have taken their battle to the court of public opinion: A jurisdiction where hyperbole and volume matter more than facts and the rule of law. And with the help of a sympathetic media and a variety of complicit instigators, a relatively routine bureaucratic action has turned into a war of words and, in many cases, illegal actions.

In the United States, the Constitution protects citizens’ right to peaceably protest. It does not, however, protect citizens’ criminal actions including shooting and throwing Molotov Cocktails and rocks at police officers, threatening citizens and pipeline workers, setting up roadblocks, starting illegal fires, and trespassing on private lands. And while some of the protesters may be engaged in prayer, the protesters garnering the most attention are engaged in these dangerous and illegal activities. Even many leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux community have expressed frustration as they’ve witnessed their concerns being overshadowed by the violence of out-of-state rabble-rousers.

Unfortunately as unrest in the area has grown, the administration appears no closer to bringing the situation to a peaceful conclusion, despite the legal and economic realities allowing for only one ending: the completion of the pipeline.

Our nation needs about 800 million gallons of petroleum per day to power its economy. That need will exist whether we supply it with American oil or oil from other countries. State officials and the Army Corps of Engineers spent months reviewing and ultimately approving the Dakota Access pipeline, it’s time for the administration to stop the uncertainty, follow the rule of law, and write the final easement. If it doesn’t, American consumers will be forced to buy more foreign oil and American workers will be sidelined as energy and infrastructure companies avoid the risk of having the federal government shutter multi-billion dollar projects just before completion.

Written by

Former senior adviser to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, current spokesman for the GAIN Coalition. Twitter: @GAINNowAmerica & @Stevens_NH

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store