An environmental standoff at the Missouri River near Cannon Ball, North Dakota is brewing between a Dallas-based pipeline company and the Standing Rock Sioux with increasing support from the Obama Administration. Occupying protests, bureaucratic demand letters and company promises to complete construction on time have created yet another flashpoint in America’s pipeline politics.
The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline Project, spearheaded by the north Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., would span from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas 1,168 miles through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Illinois, for further domestic refining and distribution. The 30-inch diameter pipe is advertised to transport roughly 450,000 barrels of crude per day, with a max estimated capacity of 570,000. The Dallas company projects that barring any long-term regulatory snags, the $3.8 billion project could be fully operational by fourth quarter 2016.
Open-ended protests organized by the North Dakota tribe, Standing Rock Sioux, have gained the attention of local media outlets and key officers of the Obama Administration alike in recent months. A primary concern has been focused on the contamination risks of nearby potable water. The tribe has held a sit-in near construction site for the last two weeks and has spawned two Facebook pages – People Over Pipelines and No Dakota Access in Treaty Territory – Camp of the Sacred Stones – to get their message out. Attendees have offered prayers to inspire a change of course.
“To me, it’s really important to support the indigenous people and all people who deserve clean water,” Kat Eng, a Minnesota resident attending demonstrations told the Bismarck Tribune.
In a statement provided to Breitbart Texas, an Energy Transfer Partners spokesperson sought to clarify the cooperative nature of its work in the area.
“It is important to note that the [pipeline] does not cross any reservation land” the spokesperson said, adding that the company has reached out to “various tribes” in the area, making “mutually agreeable easement” deals where necessary.
Although the pipeline would not directly encroach on any of the lands belonging to the tribe in question, an environmental assessment provided to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was issued to assuage concerns over possible environmental impacts and other matters, should the pipeline leak in the future. USACE is the governing entity due to its flowage easements currently held on the lands in contention. The 983-page document, prepared by Dakota Access, LLC (a Houston-based subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners) argues that the preferred construction plan is optimal “because it best meets the purpose and need while avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating environmental impacts.” The report declared that any environmental impacts would be “temporary and not significant” and explained that the pipe would be run beneath the Missouri River/Lake Oahe thanks to horizontal directional drilling. The company justifies the effort by claiming it would parallel existing utility corridors and cross other lands with similar pre-existing easements.
The Army Corps of Engineers took ownership of Dakota Access, LLC’s findings in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other related federal regulations. A period of public comment closed on the matter in January.
Following the comment period, various officers of the Obama Administration began issuing letters to the Army to reassess its findings and pursue a full environmental impact study.
Philip S. Strobel, Director of NEPA Compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Ecosystems Protection has repeatedly called on the Army to reconsider its adopted findings, demanding a second period of public comment and “provide a more thorough Environmental Justice (EJ) analysis” in a March letter. The communique hints to further complaints of minority disparate impacts should the construction continue as planned. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation echoed many of the EPA’s concerns in March letters as well. The Army’s EJ section of their report contends holders of mineral rights along lands in question have “witnessed a recent windfall” from the infrastructure improvements in recent years. All three letters complain that the Army and pipeline developers failed to directly cooperate with any tribal parties of interest, Standing Rock Sioux in particular. Energy Transfer Partners stressed to Breitbart Texas that “we reached a mutually agreeable easement with our friends and neighbors the Three Affiliated Tribes,” based in New Town, ND.
“An [environmental impact study] is simply not required or needed … any suggestion of such is misleading” and would be a waste of taxpayer funds, the company stressed in its emailed statement.
The Dallas company projects that 8,000 to 12,000 local construction jobs would be required in North Dakota alone. Upon completion, “an estimated $129 million annually in property and income taxes” will be generated thanks to the land improvements. Promises to cooperate with landowners to minimize the impacts of construction have been advertised as well.
Proponents of new pipeline construction are quick to tout the overall environmental impacts compared to conventional trucking and rail shipping of fossil fuels. The project organizer’s’ promotion of favorable statistics for such efforts held by the U.S. Department of Transportation are still not immune to spikes of public concern when a leak occurs in the region. ABC News reported in early April that the Keystone pipeline was shut down following a spill in South Dakota.
The project is not without imminent domain complaints in other states where the pipeline is planned to traverse, either. Nine private property owners filed a lawsuit against the Polk County Utilities Board in Iowa, arguing the pipeline does not meet the definition of a public utility and therefore cannot justify a taking. The landowners claim construction violates their Fifth Amendment rights, according to WHO-TV Des Moines.
Despite the emerging attempts to derail construction, Energy Transfer expressed its full confidence to Breitbart Texas that completion would occur “toward the end of the year.”
Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.