Emotions overcoming facts in North Dakota pipeline dispute

It’s easy to overlook facts when issues strike an emotional chord.  The saying goes that everyone is entitled to their own opinion; but not their own facts.  Unfortunately, it appears that opinions have already trumped facts when it comes to the Dakota Access pipeline.

For those unfamiliar, the Dakota Access project is a 1,172-mile pipeline from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to major markets across the United States. The $3.78 billion project will create nearly 10,000 jobs and foster millions for local economies. The project is currently under protest from members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose land is near the planned route.

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In a recent opinion piece, Standing Rock Sioux tribe chairman David Archambault II writes eloquently, but ultimately without precision and factual context as he opines against the ongoing Dakota Access pipeline. He said that, when it comes to opposing Dakota Access, “we all have a responsibility to speak for a vision of the future that is safe and productive for our grandchildren.”

To be sure, it is fully within the opposition’s right to disagree with aspects of the Dakota Access pipeline. However, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe did not participate in any public comment meetings in North Dakota, did not submit written testimony in opposition to the project, and refused to meet with officials from the Dakota Access project on 7 different invitations.  This was a process that included nearly 400 meetings on cultural surveying and 11 meetings between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. As American citizens, we have the right to civic participation but also the obligation to abide by its outcomes.

There are also safety concerns that must be addressed.  Currently, much of the oil being produced out of the Bakken in North Dakota is transported via railways, putting hundreds of communities at risk as the massive crude containers roll through densely populated areas. Economists and industry experts at the Manhattan Institute found that in a side-by-side comparison, pipelines are dramatically safer than their rail counterparts. The American Farm Bureau agrees, arguing:

Pipelines significantly reduce transportation costs, are more efficient, and are impervious to weather or traffic related delays. If other industries were physically able to send their products through a pipeline, they would be delighted to do so.

Moreover, there are numerous experts who virtually agree in unanimity that pipeline safety is superior to that of rail.  In particular, pipelines bring increased security as it moves crude oil off of rail and into pipelines like Dakota Access. 

On a slightly more personal level, there have been plenty of incidences where protestors have threatened and intimidated pipeline workers. So, forgive the preaching, but talking of a safe future seems disingenuous when endangering the lives and livelihoods of others.

As I mentioned above, I understand Chairman Archambault’s defense of his opinion.  What I cannot understand, however, is why he continues to ignore the fact that his Tribe refused to engage during the orderly process that lead to the approval of the Dakota Access pipeline. Sadly, Chairman Archambault’s position fails the very future he is trying to protect. The Dakota Access pipeline represents a safe and productive future for all American citizens.

Dr. Jack Rafuse is a former White House energy advisor and energy executive.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.