The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a $3.78 billion project more than halfway completed. It will transfer crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken field and other extraction locations to refining markets in Illinois. The pipeline has passed — and often exceeded — all regulatory and safety requirements, while creating thousands of jobs. According to owner, Dakota Access LLC, the pipeline will also generate $55 million in annual property taxes.
Yet last Friday, a federal appeals court temporarily halted pipeline construction within 20 miles of the Missouri River. The court sustained complaints by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST), which allege that the pipeline endangers tribal ancestral sites and its Missouri River water supply.
But the tribe does not have the evidence on its side.
According to court documents, Dakota Access reached out to tribal officials repeatedly during the pipeline approval process. Unfortunately, the company often received no response at all. Moreover, as the Dickinson Press has reported, “The State Historic Preservation Office issued a ‘no significant sites affected’ determination in February on the North Dakota segment of the pipeline, concurring with the findings of three cultural resource consulting firms…” Thus the process for protecting tribal heritage was upheld.
The tribe’s environmental concerns are even flimsier. As it happens, SRST Chairman David Archambault II owns a gas station and convenience store on the tribal reservation. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but it does qualify Archambault’s environmentalist credentials. Regardless, what’s most troubling about the tribe’s opposition to the pipeline is the flimsy environmental theory it resides upon. After all, oil is already transported across the Missouri River by rail. This includes oil-via-rail transport just 40 miles north of the reservation, in North Dakota’s second most populous city, Bismarck.
That rail status quo matters, because the vast majority of experts agree that oil in pipelines is far safer than oil in railcars. This is also true in areas of water transit: pipes below water are reinforced and constructed at depth to mitigate contamination risks. On the literal flip side, trains are far more likely to derail. That risk remains a modern one. In 2013, 47 people were killed when a Canadian oil train derailed. That derailment also polluted the local waters. Yet Archambault ignores this comparative risk in opposing the Dakota pipeline. The only objectively sustainable moral argument would be for the Chairman to propose a complete ban on oil transport. His gas station, however, makes that unlikely.
But there’s also a waft of hypocrisy here. Take the tribe-owned Prairie Knights Casino and Resort. The casino, which pulls in some $30 million a year in revenue, operates an on-site water reservoir/treatment facility, for which it is currently tendering contracts for major improvements. Yet that water facility sits next to water streamflows into Lake Oahe. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to the situation told Opportunity Lives, “The treatment facility discharging into the lake… is occurring today.”
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Ultimately, justified by law, for reasons of economic security, safety and opportunity, approving the Dakota pipeline should be a no-brainer. Greater efficiency in the energy transfer industry – what the Dakota pipeline offers – will help keep energy costs low. As the statistics prove, the alternative approach is reliance on government regulations that drive up our electricity bills.
But the Dakota Pipeline’s service of economic justice isn’t just a conservative point of view. As the AFL-CIO notes, the Dakota Pipeline has created jobs that sustain thousands of American families. The better lives born of those jobs offer demand our moral contemplation.
Yes, the history of the Sioux peoples and the federal government is marked by too much injustice. Whatever abuses Sioux warriors committed against innocent civilians in the 19th century, the government’s reaction in suspending due process rights was wrong. And the U.S. Army’s 1890 winter massacre of the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek was an especially grave atrocity.
But this pipeline does not replicate those injustices in any way. It does not trespass on the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. If constructed, it would safely serve many American families. Put simply, the Dakota pipeline is supported by morality, law and common sense.