Environmental activists and members of Native American tribes have resorted to violence to block completion of an oil pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois.
Morton and Cass Counties in North Dakota have become ground zero in the dispute over the Dakota Access pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, set tires and cars on fire, and in at least one incident even fired guns to halt construction.
The protestors’ activities prompted local law enforcement to arrest 141 protesters while removing a blockade of the pipeline on October 27, 2016.
Upon completion, the Dakota Access pipeline will stretch 1,172 miles, from the energy-rich Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in western North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, where it will link up with existing pipelines to transport crude oil to refineries in the Midwest, East Coast, Texas, and abroad. Upon completion, the $3.7 billion pipeline will have the capacity to transport as much as 470,000 barrels of oil a day.
Injunction Fails, Protests Begin
Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline, obtained rights-of-way from private landowners and secured the requisite federal and state permits to construct the pipeline as a more economical and safer way to transport oil than on the thousands of rail cars currently used.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe went to court to enjoin continued construction of the pipeline, arguing it threatened water quality and sacred burial sites on their reservation a half-mile south of the pipeline’s route.
The state’s chief archeologist found no evidence of sacred burial or cultural sites along the pipeline’s route. On September 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg decline to issue an injunction, writing the tribe “has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the Court could issue.”
Within weeks of the ruling, the protests began.
Attack on Affordable Energy
Dan Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, says the violence in North Dakota is part of a larger pattern of attacks on affordable energy.
“These activists aren’t concerned about safety; they want to end the use of oil and natural gas,” said Simmons. “The activists believe if they can make it more difficult to transport energy, then less energy will be produced, and Americans will have to pay more for energy. Their goal is to make energy more expensive.”
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, points out anti-fossil fuel activists are attacking a state that has long suffered economic malaise.
“It is ironic anti-fossil fuel activists have targeted North Dakota,” said Rucker. “For decades, North Dakota suffered population decline as many people fled the state in search of a better future.
“Oil extraction in the Bakken completely turned the state around,” Rucker said. “Even with today’s low oil prices, North Dakota is infinitely better off than it was only a few years ago, and the wealth fracking created has benefited all segments of North Dakota’s economy.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.