Dakota Access Pipeline is No Cultural or Environmental Threat

Dakota Access Pipeline is No Cultural or Environmental Threat
Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP

The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that will safely transport crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to Illinois for domestic U.S. consumption, was for years a project no one could fairly call “controversial.” It proceeded through the regulatory process without incident. The company building it worked with landowners and local officials to address any concerns before construction began. The project was halfway finished when, suddenly this summer, a small group emerged to protest the entire pipeline.

The protests originated not far from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota and were based on several allegations from that tribe. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had consulted the Standing Rock Sioux on potential cultural impacts at that and other locations along the route. Having been unable to provide any evidence that the pipeline would harm any historic sites or artifacts, tribal leaders nonetheless demanded that the corps order a halt to all work not just near their reservation but along the entire route.

Corps officials explained to tribal leaders that the Corps has no jurisdiction over the vast majority of the pipeline and cannot halt construction. When discussions failed to convince the Corps to issue an order it had no authority to issue, the protests began.

Protesters demand that the Obama administration shut down the pipeline even though it runs almost entirely along private land over which the federal government has no authority. They continue to make two sweeping claims. 1) They say the pipeline is a threat to the environment. 2) They say the entire route should be subject to tribal inspection because it threatens Native American historical sites.

What is the evidence to support these claims? Well, there is the trouble. There is none.

Let’s take the environmental concern first. Protesters say they fear water contamination from pipeline spills. But they ignore a few crucial facts. The most obvious is that the Missouri River (the water body in question) is already crossed by at least eight pipelines. Those existing pipelines pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil every day without incident.

In fact, the Dakota Access Pipeline location where the protests started is the site of an existing natural gas pipeline. The Dakota Access line route runs thorough that pipeline’s corridor.

Furthermore, pipelines are proven to be the safest way to transport oil. The Bakken crude oil that would be carried by the Dakota Access Pipeline is now shipped by train. Pipelines are 4.5 times safer than rail for transporting oil, a 2015 Canadian study found

“Pipelines transport the lion's share of crude oil because they are the safest, most environmentally friendly and least expensive way to transport large volumes of energy products,” Brigham McCown, the first administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, told Scientific American in 2013.

Transporting Bakken oil via pipeline will increase public and environmental safety, not decrease it. Now, what about the historic sites claims?

It turns out that the Standing Rock Sioux took the Army Corps of Engineers to federal court over those claims. In September, the court found that the tribe had provided no evidence that the pipeline would jeopardize any historic sites. In fact, the court found that the Corps worked with the pipeline company to reroute the line when a potential historic location was identified. The tribe appealed and again lost.

The Corps consulted with leaders of 55 tribes — including the Standing Rock Sioux — to identify and work around any potential impacts. Its findings of no historic impact were verified by state historic preservation officers.

Protesters claim that there might be historic sites along the route where the Corps does not have jurisdiction. But there is no evidence to support that speculative claim. And the federal government has no legal authority to shut down a pipeline based on speculation that it might cross a historic site at some point.

There just isn’t any evidence to support the protesters’ claims that this pipeline is a threat to the environment or Native American historic sites. The pipeline has passed every regulatory review at the state and federal level, and the claims against it have been denied by two federal courts.

This is not the case of a rogue company running afoul of the law or a regulatory agency. This pipeline was found environmentally safe and historically appropriate by four states and the federal government. It is already 77 percent complete at a cost of $3 billion. The protesters have no case, which might be why they have turned from the courtroom and to the picket line.

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