On its way out, the Obama administration is reminding us why so many will be happy to see its back.
For those who haven’t been following the dispute closely, it is about the completion of a $3.8 billion project that runs nearly 1,200 miles from the Bakken Formation shale oil fields to Illinois. The protest is over 1,100 feet of the pipeline that is planned to cross the Missouri River near the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux (“SRS”), a Native American tribe.
The protestors have made many claims, but the prominent ones are that the SRS were not consulted on the project and the crossing endangers their water supply, the intake for which is close to the proposed crossing site. You may have seen videos on TV of protestors and the SRS getting all teary while chanting “Mni Wiconi” (“water is life.”) You can even sign an online petition entitled “Rezpect Our Water.”
Now, here are the facts.
Multiple efforts by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline company, and the Army Corps of Engineers to meet with the SRS were scorned by the tribe. The tribe also did not attend the multiple public hearings about the pipeline during its lengthy approval process. Conversely, more than 50 other tribes were consulted and, in response to their and other comments, more than 140 changes to the pipeline route were made. Two federal courts have ruled that there was no failure to consult the SRS.
As for water, the SRS and the Army Corps of Engineers have had a plan for years to move the intake. The new site is 70 miles downstream of the prospective crossing point, well out of harm’s way. The pipeline is also planned to be buried 100 feet below the riverbed, with shut-off valves on both sides and safety equipment beyond federal standards. The Missouri River is already criss-crossed multiple times by pipelines carrying oil, gas and refined products upstream of the SRS’s intake and the crossing site was chosen because it has already been denatured by previous infrastructure.
The Missouri River is also crossed multiple times by road traffic, including the tanker trucks which are the current method of transporting the oil produced in the Bakken. These tankers present far greater environmental hazards than the pipeline. One of the tanker crossings is 1.6 miles upstream of the site to which the SRS water intake will be moved.
The SRS have also claimed that the pipeline will cross some of their land. But since, in one of their court filings, they claimed ancestral title to “everywhere the buffalo roam,” I think that we can safely dismiss this assertion.
So what is really going on?
For the tribe, this is mostly an opportunity to get back at The Man for decades of slights, real and imagined. It is also probably some legalized extortion against ETP, which has already sunk more than $3.0 billion into the pipeline and which faces financial costs of $2.7 million for each day the project is delayed past its January 1, 2017, planned completion date.
For the rest of the protestors, most of whom are from out of state, their motives are various. For the fashionably leftist, the importance of which should never be underestimated, the combination of “oil” and “Native American” is impossible to resist. Just imagine if Marlon Brando were still alive.
For many of the rest, this is all about doing anything to stop fossil fuel production and consumption. Just like the Keystone Pipeline, only probably with even less justification. The Bakken oil is already being produced and consumed, using a transportation method that is far worse for the environment and carbon emissions than the proposed pipeline. But, as usual, facts and logic mean nothing for this crowd.
As for the Obama administration, which has just ordered the Army Corps of Engineers not to issue the easement required to cross the river and instead is requiring a new months-long environmental impact assessment on an alternative route, this is reflexive cowardice by the Panderer in Chief. ETP actually summed it up very nicely when they claimed that the failure to issue the easement was “just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
Both the Republicans (under Trump) and the Democrats are united in their calls for large-scale programs of infrastructure development involving government expenditures or subsidies. But the Dakota Access Pipeline shows that the private sector is perfectly capable of providing growth-promoting and job-creating infrastructure if the government would only perform its most basic functions: guaranteeing the rule of law and protecting private property. America will continue to have infrastructure that would disgrace a Third World country so long as we have a legal and regulatory system of similar quality.
Weybridge, United Kingdom
I Wish That I Had Said That…
“But who would you rather have making a decision about where to make furnaces or cars? A company whose profitability depends on making good decisions, or a branding executive turned politician who wants to claim political credit?” from an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, commenting on Trump’s strong-arming of Carrier and accurately characterising his career
“No one will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy” by Henry Kissinger