Op-ed: To kill a pipeline – again

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2016 4:30pm
  • Opinion

One of the Obama administration’s core competencies is suspending pipeline projects with no cause.

It will leave office with another notch in its belt, now that the Army Corps of Engineers has acted to block a final piece of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The 1,200-mile pipeline is designed to move oil from North Dakota to Illinois and will have to await completion in a Trump administration with a more rational attitude toward pipelines specifically and fossil fuels generally.

The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be familiar to anyone who followed the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline. As with Keystone, the builders of the pipeline have taken years to dutifully check every environmental and bureaucratic box, only to get stymied when protesters — this time a Native American tribe — made the project a hate totem for the left.

With Keystone, the narrative was that the pipeline would doom the planet by bringing to market oil from the tar sands of Canada. With Dakota Access, the narrative is that Native Americans are once again getting railroaded by greedy interests who don’t care about their history or their welfare. After the decision by the Army Corps, one demonstrator told the press that the victory was “due to our people for the hundreds of years of genocide and oppression,” which is putting a lot of weight on what should be a routine bureaucratic decision to approve an otherwise unremarkable pipeline.

The protests have been led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota. The tribe alleges that the Dakota Access project will trample on culturally sensitive sites and taint its drinking water, without much in the way of supporting evidence.

The dispute centers around the pipeline’s planned crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. This isn’t exactly virgin territory. Around the lake, the pipeline will run within 22 to 300 feet of the existing Northern Border Gas Pipeline, which has been in service since 1982 and hasn’t devastated the Standing Rock tribe. The pipeline also tracks with an overhead utility line.

A decision by a federal judge in September to reject a bid by the Standing Rock tribe to block the pipeline cataloged how deliberate the developers of Dakota Access have been about culturally sensitive sites.

According to the opinion, the company found 149 potentially sensitive sites in its own surveying in North Dakota. It modified the route to avoid 140 of them and came up with a plan with the state of North Dakota to limit any effect on the other nine. It will run the pipeline with horizontal drilling in sensitive areas, allowing its installation without a trench and with minimal disruption.

Throughout most of this process, representatives of the Standing Rock tribe notably did all they could to make themselves unavailable and unresponsive. When the Army Corps invited them to a general meeting to discuss the pipeline in November 2015, five tribes attended, but not Standing Rock.

In the spring of 2016, the Corps coordinated with the pipeline’s developers to allow tribes to conduct their own cultural surveys at locations around the route. Three tribes participated; Standing Rock did not. The tribal surveys identified additional sites of concern, where Dakota Access duly agreed to take additional protective measures.

There is no real defense, though, against protesters staging cable-TV-ready disturbances against a project and making it a cause celebre. For the overwhelming majority of its route, the Dakota Access pipeline requires no permitting, since it traverses private land. It’s the tiny percent that would affect waterways that made it subject to federal approval, and thus to political hostage-taking.

For the left, Dakota Access is a symbol. In reality, it is simply a means of moving half a million barrels of crude oil a day from Point A to Point B, an activity that shouldn’t be considered dastardly or untoward. Fortunately for Dakota Access, and everyone else in the energy industry, help is on the way.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Neither party is about to admit that the primary system they control serves the country poorly

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Voter tidbit: Important information about voting in the upcoming elections

Mark your calendar now for these upcoming election dates!

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict