In the wake of months-long protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, state, local, and tribal officials are still grappling with a new environmental problem: the huge mess the protesters left behind.
By early March, a Florida contractor hired by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services at a cost to the state’s taxpayers of $1 million had removed 48 million tons of trash, abandoned vehicles and trailers, and discarded propane tanks from encampments that served as staging areas for environmental activists’ sometimes-violent protests of the pipeline.
The campsites were situated on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) land. With more debris still to be removed, bulldozers and other heavy equipment were busy at work performing the cleanup in harsh winter conditions at press time. The onset of warmer spring weather means the area’s thick snowpack will melt, and debris could be swept into the nearby Cannonball River.
Meanwhile, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which had urged the predominantly out-of-state protesters to leave, was undertaking cleanup efforts of its own. In an irony lost on few observers, including the state’s governor, a protest undertaken in the name of protecting the environment led to substantial environmental degradation, including the possible pollution of local drinking water.
Preventing an ‘Environmental Disaster’
“It is paramount for public safety, and to prevent an environmental disaster, that the camps be cleared prior to a potential spring flood,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) said, according to a report by The Daily Caller.
Developed by Energy Transfer Partners, the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline will transport oil from the energy-rich Bakken shale in North Dakota across four states to a distribution point in Illinois.
At issue over the past several months has been the pipeline’s final link, a roughly 1,000-foot stretch under Lake Oahe at the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued to halt construction of the final leg of the pipeline, pending the completion of an environmental impact study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lame-duck Obama administration stopped work on the pipeline in November, a decision reversed by President Donald Trump shortly after he took office. Trump ordered an expedited review of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines.
In response to Trump’s executive order, the Army Corps issued final approval for the pipeline, which was completed in early March. Oil began flowing through the pipeline in late March. At peak capacity, the pipeline can transport 570,000 barrels of oil per day.
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says he wonders where the trend toward vandalism and violence in environmental protests will lead.
“Sadly, we are long past the point of peaceful demonstrations,” said Rucker. “Environmental degradation, whether directed against a pipeline or a Trump-owned golf course, is increasingly becoming the hallmark of a green movement showing an appalling disdain for the environment and for anyone and anything that gets in its way.”
Bette Grande, a former North Dakota state legislator and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, cites another victim of the protests.
“When the Dakota Access Pipeline was politicized by paid environmental extremists and the Obama administration, it did no favor to the Standing Rock tribe,” said Grande. “The environmental mess left behind by the protesters shows no respect for the tribe, the environment, the rule of law, or the citizens of North Dakota.
“The idea that the pipeline will destroy the waterway, when it is so deep and when extra protection and precautions were in place, was overblown,” Grande said. “This led to extremists holding violent protests against the wishes of tribal leaders. They harmed the environment and relationships with the tribe.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.