Dakota Access Pipeline: A Key Struggle in a Much Larger Fight

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)
Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

The Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project is serious business, for both sides. From the arguments about the criticality of the environment to economic necessity, to the myriad involved groups; the players — regardless of the side of the proverbial field they are on — are part of a much larger struggle. In fact, many on both sides of the debate are not local. They are part of either Global Environmental Inc. (funded by corporate nonprofits and billionaire sympathizers) or corporate energy interests.

This is neither new nor simple. For years, the aforementioned players across the U.S. and around the world have grappled with how to protect our global environment while avoiding ruinous impacts on the global economy. While we all benefit from industrial progress, no one would trade the environment for a job. And most want to ensure modern industry will not degrade the environment.

So what about DAPL, a $3.8 billion pipeline designed to transport almost a half-million barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois? This project will provide substantial improvement to America’s energy infrastructure, and it will strengthen America’s energy security. But there is significant opposition. Why? We will explain momentarily and share a way forward for all.

Five Facts and a Threefold Challenge

First, the facts:

1. North Dakota’s Bakken Formation produces over 1 million barrels of crude oil per day with approximately 700,000 barrels of this crude transported by rail.

2. There are 2.6 million miles of pipeline running across the U.S.

3. “Pipeline systems are the safest means to move these products,” says the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (January 2013).

4. Dakota Access Pipeline ( DAPL ) will have the capacity to transport 570,000 barrels per day, which represents approximately half of Bakken daily crude oil production.

5. The U.S. imports nearly 6 million barrels of oil a day from OPEC nations and other countries. This fact also equates to the U.S. sending more than $380 billion overseas where that money far too often ends up in the hands of “threat” regimes, state sponsors of terrorism and others who pose a significant threat to our national security.

With these facts comes a threefold challenge for communities across our nation. First, we have to determine how to protect our environment and reduce our global environmental footprint. Second, we have to determine how not to ruin our economy. Third, we have to determine how not to sacrifice our national security. And all must be equitably addressed.

The antagonists will often paint a seemingly untenable picture wherein they argue a clean environment and robust economy are mutually exclusive. But as President George W. Bush stated in his 2002 public papers, “[To] address climate change, we need to recognize that economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand. Affluent societies are the ones that demand and can, therefore, afford the most environmental protection. Prosperity is what allows us to commit more and more resources to environmental protection.”

The Opposition

For months now, vocal opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline project has raged in North Dakota as protesters from throughout the U.S. and beyond have gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest and obstruct completion of the long-planned project.

In July 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — represented by the environmentalist group Earthjustice — filed suit against the project regulator, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, immediately after the Corps issued authorizations for DAPL to cross certain federal waterways. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has argued in part that Nationwide Permit 12 violates the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Additionally, the tribe argues that DAPL authorizations made in July by the Corps of Engineers violate the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

In a November letter, the Department of the Army stated that the prior authorizations granted for DAPL were correct, but invited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to participate in discussions regarding granting an easement for DAPL.

Dakota Access LLC filed a cross-claim against the Army Corps arguing that the Corps’ prior findings had already met the standard.

Due to the extensive media coverage of the protests, trending stories on social media, and involvement of celebrity activists such as Susan Sarandon and Leonardo DiCaprio, Dakota Access Pipeline opponents’ claims have become widely known. With this negative attention continuing to escalate, DAPL’s financial backers are wary of continuing to support the project. Moreover, the public perception about pipelines continues to decline unnecessarily.

The Way Forward

Complex projects similar to DAPL have benefited from meaningful collaboration among local leaders and opinion-makers seeking mutually acceptable solutions from all stakeholders through the use of what is known as the Collaboration Compact model (CCM).

A seven-step process that formulates a solution based on a binding community-corporation partnership, CCM was used effectively in Stillwater, Oklahoma (after the devastating loss of industry in Denton, Texas), when a local third-party group combated the passage of an onerous drilling ordinance that the antagonists hoped, if successful, to replicate across the state. The third-party group educated local elected officials, city staff and targeted stakeholders to promote pro-energy grass-roots activism and established a binding community of industry partnership, which resulted in the passage of a reasonable, mutually beneficial ordinance.

It appears that the primary objective of the antagonists is to prevent further fossil fuel development. Dakota Access Pipeline supporters must utilize the CCM to educate all citizens on the nature and importance of transporting domestic energy in a safe and responsible manner, and align the needs and mutual interest of all stakeholders in order to create a win-win result.

Without energy production in the U.S., the economy will decline, global pollution will increase and American national security will weaken — creating a “trifecta of doom.” A balanced solution is the only solution for the DAPL project. These issues are difficult to solve; and only through education, reasoned discourse and collaboration is there an opportunity to produce and transport energy without jeopardizing a healthy sustainable environment, economy and national security.


About the author: Thomas Stowe “Tom” Mullikin is an environmental attorney, global expedition leader, and research professor at Coastal Carolina University. He has traveled to many of earth’s most remote regions in his quest to better understand and help develop new energy solutions.


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