Denied at Dakota Access, Pipeline Protesters Will Find New Targets

Published April 5, 2017

Federal Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a request for an emergency injunction to prevent oil from being transported through the newly completed Dakota Access Pipeline.

Boasberg’s March 14 decision may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for protesters who have attempted to block completion of the $3.7 billion pipeline. In his denial of the injunction, Boasberg said preventing the pipeline from operating would be contrary to the public interest.

In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes challenged a tiny segment of the 1,172-mile pipeline, which runs from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois, saying it is too close to the tribes’ sacred waters, Lake Oahe at the Missouri River.

Environmentalists joined the cause, drawing thousands to the site in North Dakota.                        

Oil, Gas Battles to Continue

Isaac Orr, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says the protesters’ failed efforts won’t deter “keep it in the ground” protesters from attempting to achieve their anti-fossil-fuel agenda.

“They’ve found that if they pick their battles, they can have success,” said Orr. “They cost the Energy Transfer Company, which built the Dakota Access Pipeline, a lot of money.

“I think they feel protesting pipelines is much more effective than protesting fracking, because the economic benefits of a pipeline are smaller compared to oil and gas development in a community,” Orr said. “The pipelines usually just transport oil and gas through a community, with no other ties to the local business community.”

‘Lives at Risk’

Alex Fitzsimmons, communications director for Fueling U.S. Forward, says protests against natural-gas pipelines in the northeastern part of the country, combined with shutdowns of coal and nuclear plants, threaten lives.

“Extreme weather, cold weather in particular, puts people’s lives at risk,” said Fitzsimmons. “The pipeline issue comes up because, unfortunately, there is not enough pipeline capacity in the northeast to support the demand when we have major snowstorms.”

Although the media spotlight has focused on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL projects, pipelines are under construction throughout the country. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reports in 2015 there were 73,204 miles of crude oil pipelines, up from 66,813 in 2014.

‘False Narrative About Pipelines’

From 2010 to 2015, more than 18,500 miles of pipeline were built, roughly eight times the combined length of the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines.

“Our country is covered in pipelines, and the environmentalists look at it and say, ‘Look how terrible that is,'” Fitzsimmons said. “But if everything they said about pipelines were true—if they really were as evil as they claim—then why don’t we hear about more problems with pipelines? They’re everywhere. In fact, pipelines are the safest forms of transporting oil and natural gas known to man.

“That’s the real threat of protests over Dakota and elsewhere,” said Fitzsimmons. “It creates this false narrative about pipelines that isn’t grounded in reality.”

Kathy Hoekstra ([email protected]) is the regulatory policy reporter for