We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. – Sioux Indian Chief known as Standing Bear
“Let’s build a pipeline from the Bakken region in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, then into southern Illinois!” they said. “We will sell lots of oil and make lots of money for companies like Sunoco, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, US Bank, Barclays, Wells Fargo, Bank of Nova Scotia, CITI Bank, Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Canada, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Tokyo, Compass Bank, Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon.”
And so began what would become known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, and with it, controversy and protests that are likely to be ongoing for some time to come.
On the side of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) just a half a mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation boundary, where a spill would be culturally and economically catastrophic. But equally important, the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burial grounds that federal law seeks to protect.
On the side of landowners who object to the use of eminent domain to secure easements on their farmland, William Smith, an Iowa farmer who refuses to lease away 200 acres of the land he uses to grow corn and soy says it best: “I’ve been paying on this land for 35 to 40 years … and within four or five years since paying for it, somebody is trying to take it away to put a pipeline across it.”
On the side of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, there is money to be made. They, of course, argue that it will provide economic benefit to the communities in the form of nearly 12,000 jobs, $1 billion in materials, millions in taxes, and $195 million in easement payments to landowners.
The proposed pipeline would cost an estimated $3.8 billion to build and would transport a maximum of 570,000 barrels of crude oil over 1,170 miles daily. Some of the environmental issues to be considered for any pipeline are:
- Acoustic environment: Noise is increased relative to background noise by construction activities and the operation of pumping stations.
- Soils: Soils can be eroded, compacted and mixed, contaminated, and removed, and they can be acidified by local emissions of chemicals causing acid rain.
- Geology and terrain: Possible alterations of geology can cause landslides, along with accompanying risks to safety and environment, such as to fish habitat.
- Vegetation: Vegetation (including old growth forests and rare communities of plants) can be affected by surface disturbance, changes in water flows, the arrival of alien species and air contamination.
- Wildlife: Risks to wildlife can be caused by the removal, alteration and fragmentation of habitat, as well as by noise, changing access and sightlines for predators, and the creation of barriers to movement.
- Surface water resources: Water quality and quantity could be affected by erosion and crossing excavations as well as by herbicides applied to maintain a clearing around the pipeline.
- Freshwater fish and fish habitat: Activities related to the pipeline such as the clearing of vegetation, and the grading and placement of structures in water, have the potential to affect the productive capacity of fish habitat, migration, and fish health and mortality.
- Hydrogeology: Blasting, grading and tunnel construction could alter both surface and groundwater flow and expose rock formations, which could potentially leach acid or metals.
- Paleontology: Fossil resources, which are important for the scientific understanding of evolution and climate change, can be affected by direct construction activities as well as by fossil collectors who have increasingly greater access to these resources.
In addition to the above, however, is the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline would threaten water supplies on the Sioux reservations and disturb or destroy ancient Sioux relics and sacred burial grounds. It seems to me that this should be an important consideration, but those who think only of lining their own pockets will not think so.
Sadly, in cases such as this, the interests of big business and the fat cats of Wall Street frequently win out over human considerations. And with the interests of big business at stake, it becomes a matter of the politicians against the scientists. Which brings us to another question: why are we even considering yet another oil pipeline when the burning of oil is known to be one of the things releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroying our environment. If companies like Energy Transfer Partners are willing to spend $3.8 billion for a pipeline, why not spend that amount on research and development of clean, safe and renewable energy sources such as wind, air and water?
Though neither of the two political candidates running for president have had much to say about the Dakota Access Pipeline, one thing I found interesting is that Donald Trump’s “energy advisor”, Harold Hamm, is founder and CEO of Continental Resources, a company known for fracking. Mr. Hamm is likely, in the event of a Trump presidency, to be named as Secretary of Energy. Hamm has called for expanded drilling and said too much environmental regulation threatened to limit U.S. oil production and increase the country’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil producers. Hamm, 70, became one of America’s wealthiest men during the U.S. oil and gas drilling boom over the past decade, tapping into new hydraulic fracturing drilling technology (fracking) to access vast deposits in North Dakota’s shale fields. Hamm also founded a lobbying group, Domestic Energy Producers, that strongly supports the Dakota Access Pipeline.
At a time when the U.S. must be committed to steering away from coal and oil and moving toward more environmentally safe energy sources, another pipeline does not seem to be the wisest idea. Add to that the concerns of the Sioux tribes, I would at a minimum call for further environmental studies before the project moves forward. The only people who will ultimately gain from this venture are those who are already more financially secure than most of us … stockholders, CEO’s and the like.
I have included links to a couple of articles I think are worth reading below: