Dakota Access Pipeline: The Wrong Side of a Long, Long History of Resource Extraction

Yves here. Since readers took interest in Jerri-Lynn’s coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline story, we thought this story would be germane.

By Elizabeth A. Stanton, PhD, an independent consultant with more than 15 years of professional experience as an environmental economist, and has authored more than 80 reports, policy studies, white papers, journal articles, and book chapters on topics related to energy, the economy, and the environment. Originally published at  the author’s blog, lizstantonconsulting.com and  Triple Crisis

Thanks to abundant coverage by social media, the nation watched this week as activists protesting the construction of a pipeline to transport oil through the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois put their own safety at risk to protect a Native American cultural site. A Pinkterton-esque goon squad used pepper spray and attack dogs to clear the site for unscheduled excavation, resulting in injuries, hospitalizations, and an outraged public.

Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company—the developer of the Dakota Access or Bakken Oil Pipeline—asserts a public need for the 1,172-mile pipeline and promises jobs, tax revenues, and a boost to the economies of the affected states. Advocates arguing against this pipeline’s construction have found these claims to be unfounded. Energy Transfer bases its statement that the Dakota Access Pipeline is necessary on the business opportunity to get more Bakken oil to market sooner, and not on any public need that would be served by a greater flow of oil from the Dakotas to Illinois. The company’s claim that farmers need the pipeline to open up space to ship grain on trains that currently transport oil was soundly debunked by expert witnesses and even by Iowa’s Utility Board in issuing its approval of the project. There is no reason to believe either that Midwest grain shipments will be curtailed in the future or that building the pipeline would reduce any rail shipping constraints should they arise.

And while the private benefits of building the Dakota Access Pipeline are clear, any benefit to the public is harder to discern.

Energy Transfer’s case for a public benefit in new jobs and tax revenue is difficult to credit after reading local economists’ critiques of the company’s underlying analysis. After studying Energy Transfer’s cost-benefit analysis of Dakota Access as well as post hoc assessments of recent, similar projects, Dave Swenson of Iowa State University found that the company had presented inflated jobs and economic benefit projections. More generally, Swenson found that pipeline projects are large but “labor-stingy” and most of their economic stimulus leaks out of the region in which they are built.

Energy Transfer’s assessment also fails to look at the cost to local environments and human communities. The planned route for the Dakota Access Pipeline was re-located away from the more densely populated Bismarck area because of health and safety concerns while dangers to the rural communities impacted by its new route have been ignored. Toxic water pollution and the permanent loss of cultural heritage sites have important effects on public well-being. Any complete accounting of the costs and benefits of pipeline construction must be broad enough to include these external, or non-market, costs.

I’d like to be able to say that the time has passed when a narrow pecuniary interest in resource extraction trumps the public good, but the permits issued by state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would prove me wrong. The Standing Rock Sioux protesters and their allies seem to be not only on the right side of history but also on the right side of prudent decision making for the public good. The Dakota Access Pipeline has not been shown to be necessary, and Energy Transfer has failed to offer a transparent accounting of all project costs and benefits, both monetary and non-monetary. A full halt on construction is essential while legal remedies are taken and an impartial, comprehensive assessment of impacts is made.

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  1. Lynn

    Not up to standards, unfortunately. I certainly have no love for pipeline companies after my far too up close and personal view of the KXL unethical practices. But links? Any supporting information?

  2. Eclair

    “… (P)ower alone is not justification. The only force that can be valid within a democratic system is what he (Habermas) calls ‘the unforced force of the better argument.’ Sustaining this principle is what distinguishes democracy from tyranny.”

    So writes Peter E. Gordon in his Nation article (“A Lion in Winter”) on Jurgen Habermas.

    And, at this time in the approaching twilight of our Planet, gasping in clouds of carbon dioxide, methane and garbage, the Indigenous peoples and their allies put forth the better argument. Continued ‘development,’ extraction, pollution … all in the name of more money for certain elites … is sheer insanity; a signed death warrant for the rest of us.

    Humans are not the ‘subject’ of the sentence of our existence, dominating the ‘object’, our environment, in order to make more dollars. Humans are a small, co-dependent entities, embedded in Nature and our ‘work’ should be, not a 9 to 5 slog in some open-plan office, but a communal effort to make our lives and the lives of all our relatives, two-footed, four-legged, winged, crawling, rooted, as well as Earth and Sky, balanced and in harmony with each other.

  3. Veblen

    I have mixed feelings about this. I live in a community that several “bomb trains” a day currently pass through to deliver this crude oil.

    Our very lives and our sole source of drinking water are endangered every single time one of these trains makes a run, because the route carries them not only through our town, but also along our pristine lakes and rivers.

    There have been a couple of derailments recently. One dumped airplane fuselages (which could just as easily have easily been crude oil) into Lake Pend O’Reille , and the other dumped crude oil from several tank cars into a wetland adjacent to the Columbia River.

    I’m not saying this pipeline is a good alternative, but I certainly don’t find the current situation very comforting either.

  4. Jeremy Grimm

    Neither the pipeline nor the shipping of oil by rail should have been allowed. The fracking debacle should never have been allowed — let alone fostered and financed — in effect — by the Federal Government (almost slipped and called it “our” government). The pipeline situation is grave insult and injury to Native Americans. It is also injury and insult to the will of the American people to their health, resources and the futures of all our children.

  5. Rosario

    I get her point, but this has always been the case with fossil fuels in the United States (think West Virginia, Eastern/Western Kentucky, Texas, on and on). On a global scale the problem is similar (Nigerian wetlands, Saudi desert). Extraction of all kinds is the disgusting underside of the capitalist machine. They are subsidized industries, either literally or figuratively (through environmental costs, etc.). The local and/or regional governments bear the burden of the globe’s insatiable need for oil.

    So what is different with fracking and tar sands? First, it is happening primarily in the “first world”. Second, much of the extraction is taking place primarily on land (rather than sea) and in people’s backyards. This in conjunction with the fact that the extraction is not nearly as regionally concentrated as it was in the early 20th century with the oil rich fields of Texas. Fracking affects vast tracts of land coast to coast. Now we are concerned because we cannot put it in the back of our minds. The aesthetic concerns trump the rational ones.

    My initial reaction to East/West coast bourgeois environmentalists protesting fracking and these oil pipelines was disgust at their hypocrisy. Nothing is more irritating than seeing Bill McKibben jet setting around the United States and the world proclaiming the dangers of climate change all while consuming millions of gallons of kerosene and blowing millions of pounds of CO2 in the upper atmosphere. Commercial air travel is, by a mile, the single worst thing an individual can do in terms of releasing carbon. It is as if, by their actions, they are fine with our oil culture so long as they don’t have to see how it comes to be in the first place. In addition to the blowhard nature of the movement, countless millions of dollars were thrown at symbolic causes (defeating Keystone while countless other pipelines were built), rather than concrete state and local level legislation pressuring utilities and changing state renewable energy portfolios. Actions that can put renewable development on a level playing field with fossil fuel industries. In the end, when the oil is getting pumped in a Saudi desert or Nigerian wetlands it doesn’t matter nearly as much.

    My only hope is that now the “first world” sees the cost of fossil fuels because it is shoved in front of their faces. Maybe now there will be less talk of transition, which will have to be subsidized with oil, and more action. Less chest beating over defeated pipelines and more building energy production and infrastructure that doesn’t need fossil fuels to function. Unless we all want to live in the 19th century again, we are going to have to transition our economy BEFORE we “shutdown” big oil.

  6. RBHoughton

    “I’d like to be able to say that the time has passed when a narrow pecuniary interest in resource extraction trumps the public good”

    So would I and I wonder if the disclosures published in the Guardian newspaper today about the corruption of the Wisconsin state government and judiciary will be sufficient to tip the country into reform

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