Dakota Access Pipeline: Top 3 Pros and Cons

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The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile-long pipeline to transport shale oil from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, to link with other pipelines. Construction was completed in Apr. 2017 and the pipeline went into service in June 2017. [1] [3] [37]

Below is a snapshot of the 2016 debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline, while it was under construction.

In Apr. 2016 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe created the Sacred Stone Camp near where the pipeline was slated to cross under the Missouri River to protest impending construction of the DAPL because of concerns about environmental impact, possible water contamination, and destruction of sacred burial grounds. Since then conflicts between demonstrators and law enforcement resulted in injuries and hundreds of arrests.

Native American tribal leaders and activists wanted President Obama to halt the DAPL, while North Dakota’s governor and two of its congressmen called on the president to approve the pipeline and end protests. [24] [25] President Obama indicated before the Nov. 8, 2016 election that alternate routes might be considered and said he would let the situation “play out for several more weeks.” [26]

In July 2016 the US Army Corps of Engineers granted the final permits for pipeline construction to Dakota Access, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners building the pipeline. In response the Standing Rock Sioux filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging multiple violations of federal law during the permitting process. [12] However, construction of the pipeline began as scheduled, so the tribe filed a request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction until their court case was decided. On Aug. 10, 2016, a coalition of Native American tribes and other activists began a blockade of the pipeline to prevent continued construction. [3]

As news spread of the blockade, hundreds of people began arriving at the original Sacred Stone Camp. A larger camp, known as the Oceti Sakowin Camp, was formed to house thousands of new supporters. Representatives from 300 Native American tribes, along with other allies, have joined the Standing Rock Sioux to demand the pipeline construction be halted. [2]

Since the blockade began, a series of escalating confrontations occurred between pipeline opponents, many of whom call themselves “water protectors,” and various private, local, and state law enforcement agents who have been protecting the pipeline and trying to prevent disruption of the construction.

On Sep. 3, 2016, a major escalation occurred when private security working for Dakota Access used dogs and pepper spray on a group of Native Americans and allies who walked onto an active pipeline construction site to disrupt operations. [4]

On Sep. 9, 2016, the Standing Rock Tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction was denied. In response, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement pausing construction of the pipeline, pending further review, on the federal land bordering the area where the pipeline is to be bored beneath the Missouri River. Although the government requested that Dakota Access voluntarily stop work 20 miles east or west of the Missouri River, the company continued with construction. [11]

Another major confrontation occurred on Oct. 28, 2016, when over 300 police officers in riot gear, accompanied by armored vehicles, moved in to clear an encampment and road barricades that had been set up to prevent construction of a section of the pipeline. [5] [6]

On Nov. 14, 2016, the Army Corps review concluded that permission to construct the pipeline “on or under Corps land” bordering the Missouri River could not occur until further review was undertaken, and encouraged the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s involvement in the process. [1] In response, Dakota Access filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and continued with construction of the pipeline on lands not under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps. [12]

On Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, a major clash occurred between law enforcement and 400 people trying to remove a road barricade set up by law enforcement to block traffic on Highway 1806 near the Oceti Sakowin encampment. Nearly 300 people were treated for injuries, some life threatening, and 26 people were taken to area hospitals. [7][8][9] According to the Morton County Sheriff ‘s Department, between when protest activity against the pipeline began and Nov. 14, 2016, at least 473 individuals were arrested. [10]

The pipeline carried oil for over 3 years before being shut down by a federal court order, pending an environmental review, in July 2020. [38]

Should the Dakota Access Pipeline Be Completed?

Pro 1

Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will help the economy and create thousands of jobs.

Building the pipeline is expected to create 8,000 to 12,000 new jobs and pump money into industries that manufacture steel pipes and other related materials. [2] A Georgetown professor estimated that construction will add $129 million in annual tax revenue into local and state economies during construction. [27] Once the pipeline is operational, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois may earn $50 million annually in property taxes and $74 million in sales taxes. [27] The increased revenue would improve schools, roads, and emergency services in those areas. Moving oil by pipeline instead of railroad will ease transportation shortages for other major regional industries including agriculture. [2]

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Pro 2

Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will help the United States to become more energy independent.

There are 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines currently running through the United States. [23] Reducing oil imports from the Middle East, Russia, and elsewhere lowers US dependence on foreign energy, which in turn bolsters national security and creates leverage to push for human rights improvements in oil-producing nations. [30] Oil imports account for nearly two-thirds of the US annual trade deficit, but North Dakota’s 251% increase in oil production since 2010 can significantly cut back on the billions of dollars leaving the US economy. [29] President Obama spoke about increased domestic oil production in his 2013 State of the Union speech, saying, “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.” [30] The pipeline is considered a big step in that direction.

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Pro 3

The Dakota Access Pipeline will make transporting oil from North Dakota to major refining markets safer, more cost effective, and more environmentally friendly.

A review of US Department of Transportation statistics proved that “pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries than road and rail,” according to the Manhattan Institute. [33] Transferring oil by pipeline is less likely to result in spills or accidents, avoiding incidents like the May 2015 derailment of a train carrying crude oil that resulted in a fiery crash and forced the evacuation of a North Dakota town. [34] Kelcy Warren, CEO of the company building the DAPL, told PBS NewsHour, “This pipeline is being built to safety standards that far exceed what the government requires us to do.” [31] Pipelines reduce transportation costs by $5 to $10 per barrel of oil, and have a lower carbon footprint than trains or trucks. [35][36]

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Con 1

The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of people downstream.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was originally slated to cross under the Missouri river north of Bismarck, the state’s capital. However, DAPL was re-routed south of the city, half-mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, due to concerns that a pipeline break could poison the city’s water source. [15] A pipeline spill would imperil the drinking water of not just the Standing Rock Tribe, but also millions of people downstream. [14] The construction of the pipeline was fast-tracked using a process called Nationwide Permit No. 12, exempting it from environmental reviews required by the Clean Water Act, adding further concerns about the safety of the pipeline. [16]

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Con 2

The Dakota Access Pipeline is being built on sacred land guaranteed to the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) by treaty.

Under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the land that the pipeline is being built on is still the unceded and sovereign territory of the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux Nation). [17] As such, the Standing Rock Sioux should have been consulted before the pipeline was approved. [14] The Army Corps of Engineers said that “additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands.” [13] According to Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, Standing Rock Tribal Historian and director of the Camp of the Sacred Stones, the pipeline contractors are ignoring “pending legal action taken by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Oceti Sakowin tribes,” “treaty law,” and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. [18] Construction of the pipeline has already damaged sacred burial sites and other culturally significant areas. [19]

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Con 3

The Dakota Access Pipeline will worsen climate change by pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of shale oil to market daily.

If completed, the DAPL would carry 470,000 – 570,000 barrels of Bakken shale oil to market. [2] The extracted oil, once processed, transported, and burned, would release 101.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year. This is the equivalent of the emissions from 29.5 coal plants or 21.4 million cars per year. [21] A peer-reviewed study found that a global rise in atmospheric ethane, a greenhouse gas, can be traced largely to hydraulic fracking in the North Dakota Bakken shale oil fields. [20] According to US Senator Bernie Sanders, “if we have any hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change, we should not be building new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for generations to come.” [22]

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1.Judy Wicks, "Why I’m Going to Standing Rock for Thanksgiving,” ecowatch.com, Nov. 20, 2016
2.Energy Transfer Partners, "About the Dakota Access Pipeline,” daplpipelinefacts.com (accessed 11/23/2016)
3.Jack Healy, "Occupying the Prairie: Tensions Rise as Tribes Move to Block a Pipeline," nytimes.com, Aug. 23, 2016
4.Democracy Now, "Full Exclusive Report: Dakota Access Pipeline Co. Attacks Native Americans with Dogs & Pepper Spray,” democracynow.org, Sep. 6, 2016
5.Sue Skalicky and Monica Davey, "Tension Between Police and Standing Rock Protesters Reaches Boiling Point,” nytimes.com, Oct. 28, 2016
6.Camp of the Sacred Stones, "Police from 5 States Escalate Violence, Shoot Horses to Clear 1851 Treaty Camp,” sacredstonecamp.org, Oct. 28, 2016
7.Alleen Brown, "Medics Describe How Police Sprayed Standing Rock Demonstrators with Tear Gas and Water Cannons,” theintercept.com, Nov. 21, 2016
8.Matt Pearce, "Dakota Access Pipeline Protester May Lose Her Arm after Small Explosion, Activists Say,” latimes.com, Nov. 21, 2016
9.Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Update on Sophia Wilansky,” facebook.com/MedicHealerCouncil, Nov. 22, 2016
10.Morton County Sheriff’s Department, Facebook post, facebook.com/MortonCountySD, Nov. 14, 2016
11.Department of Justice, "Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” justice.gov, Sep. 9, 2016
12.Earth Justice, "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Litigation on the Dakota Access Pipeline,” earthjustice.org, Nov. 22, 2016
13.US Army Corps of Engineers, "Statement Regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline,” usace.army.mil, Nov. 14, 2016
14.David Archambault II, "Taking a Stand at Standing Rock," nytimes.com, Aug. 24, 2016
15.Amy Dalrymple, "Pipeline Route Plan First Called for Crossing North of Bismark,” bismarktribune.com, Aug. 18, 2016
16.William Yardley, "There’s a Reason Few Even Knew the Dakota Access Pipeline was Being Built,” latimes.com, Nov. 9, 2016
17.Kiana Herold, "Terra Nullius and the History of Broken Treaties at Standing Rock,” intercontinentalcry.org, Nov. 14, 2016
18.Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, "Spirit Camp Warriors Stand in Path of the Dakota Access Pipeline," sacredstonecamp.org, Aug. 10, 2016
19.Democracy Now, "Did the Dakota Access Pipeline Company Deliberately Destroy Sacred Sioux Burial Sites,” democracynow.org, Sep. 6, 2016
20.EcoWatch, "Fracking in Bakken Oilfield Largely Responsible for Global Rise in Ethane,” ecowatch.org, May 6, 2016
21.Lorne Stockman, "Dakota Access Pipeline Would Lock in Emissions of 30 Coal Plants,” ecowatch.com, Sep. 13, 2016
22.Bernard Sanders, Letter to President Obama, sanders.senate.gov, Oct. 28, 2016
23.Jay Michaelson, "North Dakota Pipeline Protesters Win a Battle but Lose the War,” thedailybeast.com, Nov. 11, 2016
24.Lynda V. Mapes, "Washington Tribes Urge That Obama Stop, Reroute Dakota Access Pipeline,” seattletimes.com, Nov. 23, 2016
25.Timothy Cama and Devin Henry, "ND Republicans Demand Obama Approve Dakota Access Pipeline,” thehill.com, Nov. 23, 2016
26.Rebecca Hersher, "Obama: Army Corps Examining Possible Rerouting of Dakota Access Pipeline,” npr.org, Nov. 2, 2016
27.Bradley A. Blakeman, "Why We Must Build the Dakota Access Pipeline Now," thehill.com, Sep. 9, 2016
28.Richard Anderson, "How American Energy Independence Could Change the World," bbc.com, Apr. 3, 2014
29.Barack Obama, "President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address -- As Prepared for Delivery," whitehouse.gov, Feb. 12, 2013
30.Lamont Colucci, "An Oil Boom Is a Power Boon," usnews.com, Dec. 1, 2014
31.PBS NewsHour, "CEO behind Dakota Access to Protesters: 'We're Building the Pipeline'," pbs.org, Nov. 16, 2016
32.Federal Railroad Administration, "Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Hazmat/Crude Oil FAQ," www.fra.dot.gov, Feb. 28, 2013
33.Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "Pipelines Are Safest for Transportation of Oil and Gas," www.manhattan-institute.org, June 2013
34.Enjoli Francis, "Fiery Scene after Train Derails in North Dakota," abcnews.go.com, May 6, 2015
35.Tracy Johnson, "Pipelines vs. Trains: Which Is Better for Moving Oil?," CBC News website, Mar. 10, 2015
36.John Frittelli, Anthony Andrews, Paul W. Parfomak, Robert Pirog, Jonathan L. Ramseur, and Michael Ratner, "U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service website, Dec. 4, 2014
37.Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, "
Addressing Misconceptions about The Dakota Access Pipeline," daplpipelinefacts.com (accessed Oct. 7, 2020)
38.Jacey Fortin and Lisa Friedman, "Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Review, Federal Judge Rules," nytimes.com, July 6, 2020