Repercussions of Dakota Access Pipeline Delay

Repercussions of Dakota Access Pipeline Delay
Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP

The repercussions of the Obama administration’s decision to continue delaying the more than half-completed Dakota Access pipeline would extend well beyond billions in private investment dollars, tens of thousands of lost jobs, and hundreds of millions in denied annual tax revenues.  At stake is the fragile nexus between state and federal regulation of the private development they govern.  If Dakota Access is denied at this late stage – after having met and exceeded all applicable rules and regulations, and, after having invested huge sums of capital – it would signal an end of the rule of law under this administration. 

Private companies do not spend large amounts of time and money frivolously.  They identify a need, conceive a solution, and then establish a goal for attaining it.  They study.  They plan.  They commit to years of regulatory hearings, testimony, proceedings, and detailed reports by the company and by federal, state and local officials.  Only after all those steps have been taken do the private companies commit, and with years to go before ultimate clearances are granted, do they commit. 

For Dakota Access, that commitment revolves around a 1,172-mile pipeline that will transport domestically-produced crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota to major refining markets throughout the country.  It’s a commitment that, at today’s volume, will transport half of the total production coming from the Bakken, and will result in a river of royalties to private landowners, the state, and to many Native Americans who hold oil and gas leases or production on reservation land.

Routed on private property for all but 1,094-feet of federal land, Dakota Access will employ state-of-the art technology, and prove vastly safer and more environmentally sound than other modes of transport such as rail or truck.  It will be more efficient and more cost-effective.  It will also directly infuse the economies of North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota – the four states the pipeline will traverse – with more energy-wealth, jobs, and tax revenue.  In fact, it already has. 

In the 800-plus days since the project was announced, the $3.8 billion Dakota Access has already invested more than $1.6 billion in construction, heavy equipment and direct labor costs, supporting between 8,000 and 10,000 American jobs. 

Understandably, most Dakota Access news coverage of late has revolved around the ongoing protests – and localized work stoppage – that result from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s suit to halt construction (I addressed the relevant history, merits, and motivations here weeks ago). 

The project studiously applied for all relevant permits, approvals, and certificates issued across four separate states’ jurisdictions, and also from the Federal Government.  Together, these exhibits form compelling testimony to Dakota Access’s commitment to a safe and legal process that has been enormously sensitive to, and solicitous of, the Native American community.

Although Dakota Access was ultimately green-lighted by the applicable agencies of four separate states as well as the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), it received those approvals only after a painstaking review process that included continuous consultation with Native American tribes, as well as the verification by three independent sources – USACE (which held 389 meetings with 55 tribes), a federal judge, and the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office (and its Chief Archaeologist, Paul Picha) – that the pipeline’s route near the protest site in North Dakota does not infringe upon any areas of cultural significance.

Yet reporters, journalists and photographers add sympathy and coverage to the growing Indian crowds who say they will continue to oppose the pipeline for as long as it takes. They stack firewood, hold school classes, build stronger, warmer winter homes, meeting centers and medical facilities.  They gather sympathy and support from visitors, many of whom would typically support legal and regulatory processes. 

Dakota access has been thoroughly – exhaustively – examined.  On every applicable issue, it has been found compliant.  It has played by the rules, and satisfied all legal demands made upon it.  Its approval has been won, and earned.  Continued delay will have deleterious consequence that extends far beyond just the immediate and obvious economic fallout. For these reasons, the Dakota Access Pipeline should be allowed to continue construction without further delay.

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