The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Community Impacts of Infrastructure Obstruction

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 1, 2016

The protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota continues to underscore a couple of critically important points for local residents and workers and the entire country.

One is the potential harm to the fabric of our society caused by departing from the rule of law and established procedure when the Obama administration announced it was reconsidering federal approvals for the project just minutes after a federal judge found no reason for delaying the pipeline. Another is the risk to people living near the construction site as well as to workers building the pipeline.

The first is unfortunate and could affect our country’s energy security while negatively impacting future energy projects and proposed infrastructure of all kinds. Discarding law and established processes sets a precedent for future departures. This will tend to chill progress on needed infrastructure – whether the project is a pipeline, transmission lines, roads, bridges, ports and others – or halting it altogether, a dangerous result for the country. Eighteen different organizations pressed that point with President Obama recently:

“Mr. President, this is not how our country should operate. The Dakota Access Pipeline has undergone a rigorous and well established environmental and regulatory review. … To arbitrarily preempt that process, as these agencies have done, is not only grossly unfair, it will have a chilling impact on the willingness of developers in all fields to commit time and capital to the construction of the infrastructure our nation so vitally needs.”

The second part is personal – the impacts on project workers and local residents. Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Union, said workers have been threatened and prevented from doing their jobs. According to reports, construction equipment has been vandalized and set on fire. One protester was just recently accused of firing shots at law enforcement officers.

People who live in the county are seeing their lives disrupted by lawless activities. Local rancher Doug Hille addressed the influx of celebrities, out-of-town activists and assorted other characters (h/t blogger Rob Port):

My family and I, and my neighbors, have become targets of intimidation tactics and threats because we live here, not because we support the pipeline. The roving groups of demonstrators have not allowed us to get our crops, hay and cattle moved in a timely manner. The costs – financial, physical, emotional and environmental – that we are incurring are substantial. We do not understand why we, as innocent bystanders, have been targeted by the protest movement. … [T]hese out-of-state rioters and agitators have terrorized our community, stolen and slaughtered our livestock, vandalized our property, frightened our children, and blocked roads that we use to move our cattle and grain to market and that ambulances use to transport people to the hospital.

State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring told the Bismarck Tribune:

“Fences are being cut, hay is being stolen, roads are being blocked by activists in masks, and motorists are being forced off the road. There are numerous trespassing issues and just an overall lack of respect for property and the personal safety of our farmers and ranchers and their families.”

Local resident and oil field worker Chuck Stevens to the newspaper:

“We just want everything to go back to normal. I’m afraid they’ll vandalize or wreck the house.  … They have every right in the world to protest, but I don't think violence and weapons are the answer.”

As we’ve noted before, the Dakota Access Pipeline has legal construction permits after passing reviews by four regulatory boards and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – an established process upheld by a federal court. The $3.78 billion project (including $1.4 billion in North Dakota) is about 60 percent finished and promises to generate tens of millions of dollars in property and sales taxes while supporting thousands of jobs.

While those who oppose the project have claimed that the rights of Native Americans have been ignored, the Corps of Engineers consulted tribal and other stakeholders on more than 250 occasions over a two-year period. The pipeline doesn’t cross tribal lands, and much of the route along Lake Oahe is immediately adjacent to an existing natural gas pipeline built in 1982. CNN reports that not all Native Americans living in the area are protesting the pipeline:

No one makes this clearer than Robert Fool Bear Sr., 54, district chairman of Cannon Ball. The town he runs, estimated population of 840, is just a few miles from the action. … Fool Bear has had it with the protesters. He says that more than two years ago, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe could have attended hearings to make their concerns known, they didn't care. Now, suddenly, the crowds are out of control, and he fears it's just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt. Go down to the camps, he says, and you won't see many Standing Rock Sioux. "It irks me. People are here from all over the world," he says. “If they could come from other planets, I think they would.”

As we say, the Dakota Access Pipeline is about following the rule of law to allow the project’s completion and about respecting the rights of residents and workers. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“An action like this near as we can tell is unprecedented and it raises the legal questions. But it also poses the question of ... (condoning) lawlessness. It allows people to engage in activities suggesting that the rule of law doesn’t matter anymore. Everybody got a permit, everybody followed the rules. A third-party, independent judge appointed by the president came back and reaffirmed that. That’s regular order, regular process. … It’s the action after that that’s unprecedented, that raises all sorts of legal questions and creates uncertainty and a chilling effect on the billions of dollars that could be brought to bear to create jobs and benefit American consumers.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.