As Dakota Access Nears Completion, America Still Needs Pipeline Infrastructure

As Dakota Access Nears Completion, America Still Needs Pipeline Infrastructure

In recent weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handed down the final easement needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe in my home state of North Dakota. The pipeline is just days away from becoming operational. While legal battles will likely continue to be waged, court rulings to date have consistently validated the process that led to approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  As protest camps in the region clear out, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the toll that those activities took on the residents and the environment of North Dakota. 

According to the latest reports, clean-up crews have removed as much as 48 million pounds of garbage from the Oceti Sakowin camp, costing taxpayers as much as $1 million. This unprecedented level of negligence stood as a threat to the region’s environment, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state officials intervened and evacuated the camps. With rising temperatures and spring thaws on the way, the refuse could have been washed directly into the Missouri River system. With all the rhetoric about protecting the water, the trash left behind by protestors posed a far more imminent threat to water than the pipelines buried far underneath it. Thankfully, the authorities intervened before more serious damage was done.

Looking beyond Dakota Access to the future of other pipeline infrastructure projects, some key facts merit consideration.

First, for the foreseeable future, residents of the United States will continue to rely on petroleum products such as crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids like butane, ethane and propane to sustain their everyday lives. Second, pipelines remain, by far, the safest means by which to transport those energy goods. Third, the United States continues to work steadily toward the diversification of its energy sources, utilizing energy goods produced here at home and lessening our reliance on energy from volatile regions elsewhere in the world.  Fourth, a pressing need for infrastructure remains in growing production regions within the United States – such as the Marcellus, Bakken, and Permian shale regions – to markets within and for export to allies abroad.

These facts are too often ignored by opponents of all pipeline infrastructure projects.  While there may always be those who incorrectly insist that a full transition to renewable energy will occur almost overnight, it is vital that our local, state, and national leaders legislate, regulate, and provide oversight that is grounded in reality. 

Even as new energy resources are developed, Americans continue to need traditional energy to power our cars, produce our consumer goods, heat our homes, and supply our businesses.  As a nation we must prioritize and focus on improving energy infrastructure projects that will deliver access to American energy in the safest and most reliable and environmentally responsible manner possible. 

Energy project developers should not be allowed to cut corners, but at the same time, thoroughly vetted, methodically planned projects that take years of diligent work and stakeholder engagement deserve to be given an honest review.  The fact that courts have regularly upheld the work done by officials in cases like Dakota Access and other pipeline projects is a testament to their due diligence.  Rather, it is the more recent hyper-politicization of pipelines that stands in contrast as a departure from this nation’s long tradition of siting critical energy infrastructure projects on the basis of a fully developed record and the rule of law.  Access to affordable, reliable energy is the lifeblood of any nation’s economy in the modern world.  

Moving forward, let’s hope that American policymakers and regulators reaffirm their commitment to the guiding legal principles that have led our nation to a position of leadership in world energy innovation and production.

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