It’s Worth Remembering That Alternate Dakota Access Pipeline Routes Were Already Considered


A man stands near Highway 1806 just outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as "water protectors" continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Today in an editorial the Fargo Forum seems willing to give the violent, unlawful #NoDAPL protesters a sort of heckler’s veto over the Dakota Access Pipeline route. The paper argues that President Trump, rather than walking back the Obama administration’s latest delay to the pipeline, ought to embrace it.

“Does anyone believe the tribe and its allies will go quietly away if the new president pushes for the pipeline crossing location that fired up the protest?” the paper asks. “Or, will a more savvy President Trump allow the revisited federal permit process, including a thorough environmental impact statement, to proceed as ordered by the Obama administration?”

There is a lot to unpack in those two sentences.

First, and foremost, it is dangerous to reward violent behavior from protest movements. If we signal to political extremists that they can get what they want by throwing enough rocks, and setting enough fires, then we will get more riots and violence.

Second, initiating an environmental impact statement at this point in the game is absurd. The pipeline company has already invested billions in construction based on the previous conclusion of the federal government that such a statement wouldn’t be necessary. Requiring one now is the worst sort of moving-the-goal-posts. “[A]full Environmental Impact Statement can take up to a couple of years to complete,” Amy Dalrymple reports today based on comments from Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak. That may be happy news to those trying to fight a war of attrition against the pipeline’s construction, but for those of us who aren’t environmental zealots the idea is absurd.

Third, alternate routes for the pipeline were already considered and rejected. From Dalrymple’s article:

The Army ordered additional review of alternative routes, including more detailed information on a route Dakota Access considered early in its planning that would have crossed the Missouri River about 10 miles north of Bismarck.

But previously, in the environmental assessment, the corps concluded the Bismarck route was not a “viable alternative” for several reasons, including its proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells.

The Bismarck route also would have been 11 miles longer, required crossing more waterbodies and wetlands and would have crossed an area considered by federal pipeline regulators as a “high consequence area,” which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill, the corps concluded.

The current route for the Dakota Access Pipeline was chosen because it’s shorter and more environmentally friendly because it has fewer water crossings and can be co-located with existing pipeline/energy infrastructure.

That co-location, by the way, is part of the reason why the feds didn’t recommend an Environmental Impact Statement from the get-go. If you’re following existing infrastructure you can rely on the previously-completed reviews.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, what to proponents of a re-route expect to find? Some magical crossing of the Missouri River or Lake Oahe that nobody was aware of before? Perhaps we can find a magical wardrobe which will allow the pipeline to be run through the Land of Narnia instead of being buried, safely and responsibly, under Lake Oahe.

The problem with the Forum’s editorial is that they’re treating President Obama’s maneuvers as though they were serious policy proposals and not a sort of regulatory vandalism aimed at pipeline infrastructure.

The Corps, state regulators, and the pipeline company have done their jobs. The current route is the best route. Let’s stop pandering to this violent, dishonest mob which has assembled in south central North Dakota and move on.