The Dakota Access pipeline suffered a setback on Sunday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit that would allow the project to cross under Lake Oahe. The Army’s decision has all but halted construction. The company building it, Energy Transfer Partners, did not have an immediate comment. Meanwhile, the Army is exploring alternate routes.
Opponents of the pipeline, such as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, believe it traverses sacred grounds and threatens their water supply. Supporters of the pipeline say it does not pose a threat to drinking water and that multiple archaeological studies have found no sacred items along the route.
A closer examination of the facts reveals that pipeline opponents have little ground to stand on. For starters, the path of construction does not take it through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The pipeline was routed to parallel existing pipelines in order to avoid culturally and environmentally sensitive areas. In October, a federal appeals court rejected the tribe’s arguments and refused to halt the project.
The Standing Rock Sioux also claim the pipeline would threaten their water supply. But that argument is also overblown. For starters, the tribe’s current water source, which is 20 miles away from the pipeline, is set to be closed at the end of the year. The new water treatment plant is located 70 miles away from the pipeline further down the Missouri River. In addition, the pipeline is set to be buried 92 feet under the riverbed, further reducing the odds of water supply contamination.
The tribe’s strongest argument is that the land the pipeline is being built on was stolen from them by the federal government at substantially less than market value under eminent domain. It was then flooded to create the lake under the Pick-Sloan Plan in 1944. The Supreme Court ordered the federal government to pay the tribes $17.5 million plus interest for the land taken under Pick-Sloan and other prior takings in 1980.
The tribes refused to accept the court-ordered payment for the land. Despite this, under the current law, the land the pipeline will run through does not belong to the Standing Rock Sioux. They have no jurisdiction over it.
This is yet another example of lawlessness by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has developed political ties with Native American tribes, and his former special assistant for Native American affairs, Jodi Archambault Gillette, is the sister of the Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, Dave Archambault.
The most likely reason the Obama administration rejected the pipeline is because they’re fundamentally opposed to expanding oil and gas infrastructure. But the U.S. is going to continue to use fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and pipelines are the safest way to transport it.
North Dakota political blogger and radio host Rob Port wrote this on Sunday after the pipeline decision:
[S]uffice it to say that this is a grave injustice. Not only from a legal stand point – this pipeline company invested billions into following an exacting regulatory process only to see the goal posts moved on them at the last moment – but a moral stand point.
The message this sends the enemies of energy infrastructure is that if they cause enough mayhem, if they light enough fires and pick enough fights, they can get their way.
Port is correct. The pipeline company had followed the existing law and had their project defeated because of politics, not legitimate concerns. In fact, the current Dakota Access path was picked because it’s the most environmentally friendly route.
There is no excuse to deny the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s time for it to be completed.