On the Dakota Access Pipeline, let’s stick to the facts
© Greg Nash

Any large infrastructure project will generate some opposition, and that is understandable. Progress is often initially challenged; eventually, though, calm and respectful dialogue usually brings supporters and opponents together to find common ground. Facts have a way of emerging with great clarity as passions subside.

During the ongoing protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the public has had a harder time getting to the facts about this important project. Untrue claims are circulating again, and the record needs to be set straight.

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To start, the pipeline’s path, which has been set for two years, does not enter the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The portion being protested is on private property and does not run on previously undisturbed land. It follows a pre-existing energy corridor in which electricity transmission lines and the Northern Border natural gas pipeline already lay.

An ancient burial or other sacred site simply cannot exist in the fill laid down by the modern construction crews that covered those transmission and oil lines.

The entire route through North Dakota was approved by the state Historic Preservation Office, which issued a “no significant sites affected” determination in February. The state’s chief archaeologist said in early September that “due diligence under existing regulatory law and regulation was done.”

If anything of archaeological significance were to turn up during the pipeline’s construction, trained archaeologists are on site to investigate.

The protests might also give the false impression that Native American tribes had no input to the project. The public record shows that they did. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held 389 meetings with 55 tribes to discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe met with the corps nearly a dozen times to discuss archaeological issues and to help finalize the pipeline’s route.

That route was determined with the help of tremendous public input. Project leaders participated in 559 meetings with community leaders, elected officials and organizations in areas surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. To collect public input, 29 open houses, public meetings and regulatory hearings were held throughout the four states where the pipeline travels.

That the pipeline was to be routed along its current corridor was neither a secret nor a surprise to any tribe. That is why it was so disappointing to see the Obama administration cite tribal input when ordering a halt to construction of a small portion of the pipeline on Corps of Engineers land through and around Lake Oahe.

Not only did tribes have significant input into the siting of the route, but a federal court found no reason to halt construction of the small, disputed portion of the route based on tribal claims.

On Sept. 9, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to halt construction of the pipeline near its reservation. Judge Boasberg concluded after an extensive review that “the Tribe has not shown it will suffer injury” if construction proceeds as planned.

The Obama administration did not contradict the federal court’s ruling or conclude that anything was done improperly. It argued instead that the Corps of Engineers should go back and double check to “determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site.”

No one has shown that any sensitive tribal land is being jeopardized by the pipeline. Nor is there reason to fear that the pipeline would compromise the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply. The Missouri River in North Dakota already is traversed by eight pipelines that safely transport energy products every day.  And the tribe’s water intake is scheduled to be moved later this year to a spot roughly 70 miles from the Dakota Access Pipeline’s river crossing.

When we can get past the shouting and look at the facts, it is clear that the pipeline’s route was thoroughly vetted, that tribes offered significant input that helped shape the route, and that claims of damage to ancient lands or water supplies are unfounded.

When completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will bring low-cost U.S. oil to markets in the Midwest, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The pipeline’s builders take local concerns very seriously, which is why they went to such lengths to build broad public support for the project. While there should always be room for dialogue, no infrastructure project, especially one so tremendously beneficial, should be delayed because of false claims and misinformation.

Craig Stevens is a spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now Coalition. MAIN is a project of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, with members in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois – the states crossed by the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Follow us on Twitter @StandingRockFTC


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