North Dakota and Feds Suppress Native American Pipeline Protesters

[top: planned Dakota Access pipeline route, via Dakota Access LLC; bottom: Keystone XL pipeline, via Independent-UK]

[top: planned Dakota Access pipeline route, via Dakota Access LLC; bottom: Keystone XL pipeline, via Independent-UK]

What’s the difference between these two pipelines? Only variations are the origin of the oil they may transport and their location as far as I can tell since they are described as competing pipelines.

Oh, and the Keystone XL pipeline was vetoed by President Obama a year ago this past February because Congress tried to ram through approval, attempting to “circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” according to the president.

In both cases — Keystone XL and the Dakota Access — the planned pipelines traversed Native American tribal lands and/or water systems upon which these sovereign nations relied. The affected tribes have protested the credible threats these pipelines pose to their health and safety as well as their heritage and sovereignty.

The threat is real; there have been 11 pipeline accidents since 2000 on lines carrying oil or gasoline across the Dakotas. One of those pipeline accidents resulted in roughly 20,000 barrels or 865,000 gallons of oil spilling beneath a farm in North Dakota in 2013. There was a ten-day lag after the farmer brought the spill to the company’s attention until the state’s governor heard about the accident — ridiculous, considering North Dakota is the 47th largest state in terms of population, at less than 800,000 residents. It’s not like there were a lot of people in the way. The spill covered an area equal to seven football fields and clean-up is still under way and may not be completed until some time in 2017. The North Dakota Tesoro pipeline oil spill is one of the largest in the U.S. to date.

Oil producers and pipeline owners/operators have frankly been lousy in their responsibilities to the public. It’s not just the 11 pipeline accidents in the Dakotas since 2000; it’s a rather lengthy list of them across the entire country and a lengthy track record of crappy response to the damage done to the environment. My state, Michigan, which is surrounded by the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, is also the site of the largest oil pipeline spill in the U.S. In 2010, more than 1.1 million gallons of oil spilled, much of it into a waterway. Alarms notifying the pipeline’s owner, Enbridge, of the spill were initially ignored for 17 hours, blown off as operation notifications.

Simply unacceptable.

The Native American tribes have no reason whatsoever to believe oil producers and pipeline owners/operators will act with any more care than they have to date. Further, they have no reason to trust the U.S. government about these pipelines, either. They have been betrayed and damaged again and again by the U.S. — excessive and mortal police brutality, theft of human remains, theft and mismanagement of billions in assets, the indignity of fighting to remove the name of a mass murderer from public lands, the catastrophic contamination of the San Juan River supplying water to the Navajo nation — the insults are endless.

The latest insult: North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple signed an executive order to obtain more funding for additional police to deter approximately 1,500 protesters. The state has pulled water supplies used by the protesters and refused to allow portable toilets to be emptied. This follows a temporary restraining order granted to Dakota Access LLC by a federal district court against protesters’ interference with pipeline work. Native Americans have also been prevented from leaving reservation land, which may be a violation of civil rights and treaties.

Native Americans have legitimate concerns with the Dakota Access pipeline. For one, its planned route crosses the Missouri River which serves as the entire water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) approved 200 water crossings by the pipeline in spite of requests by the Sioux to deny construction permits. The ACOE, however, reviewed and rejected an alternate pipeline route crossing the Missouri River near Bismarck as it was deemed a threat to the municipal water supply. This looks like outright racism on the face of it; the pipeline is a threat to 92% white Bismarck, but not a sovereign Native American tribe?

Secondly, the ACOE has been asked by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to conduct an investigation and prepare a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), requiring consultation with the affected tribes. No EIS appears to have been conducted to date. In addition to the health and environmental safety concerns related to the pipeline’s installation and operation, the historical significance of the area is inadequately documented. The lack of a thorough assessment means the current Dakota Access pipeline plan may disrupt an older Mandan village site where Mandan may be buried. The site has cultural and religious significance to tribes and should be protected by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation under federal law.

Dakota Access LLC is pressing for this pipeline to reduce the costs of oil. Shipping crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale reserve by rail or truck is more expensive than shipping by pipeline.

That is until ALL the true costs and externalities are added, like the spills, remediation, short- and long-term health and environmental problems are added. These costs haven’t been added to the true cost of oil and are instead a gamble which humans living nearest to the pipeline must pay if there is a failure.

[10-year monthly price of WTI per barrel via Megatrends]

[10-year monthly price of WTI per barrel via Megatrends]

While the oil producers and pipeline operators continue to hammer away at the cost of oil, the price of oil has fallen. They can’t drop the cost fast enough and deep enough to realize a return on investment. They will cut corners as much as possible as the price of oil falls — and it will, if demand for oil also falls as it has with the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles. Cutting corners means there will be greater risk the pipeline will not be adequately monitored or maintained, just as it wasn’t in Michigan.

As more and more alternative, green energy resources come on line along with the technology to use them, it will make even less sense to invest in pipelines which may not carry all that much oil. The Bakken Shale reserve is estimated at several hundred billion barrels of oil, but the amount which can be recovered readily and economically is much less than 10% of the estimated total reserve. If the oil is too expensive to extract AND competing energy resources are both cheaper and available, why build this pipeline at all? How is enabling our continuing addiction to oil in the long-term best interests of our country?

It will take some spine to do the right thing and force this project to slow down for a full EIS assessment. It will take even more spine to point out we are both at the end of fossil fuel and at the limit of our disregard for Native Americans’ lives. It can be done, however; just ask Canada’s Justin Trudeau how he did it.

13 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Enbridge has a really bad rep as a pipeline company. I wouldn’t trust them with a water pipe, never mind something like oil or chemicals.

  2. rugger9 says:

    Brazil did it as well, converting to ethanol from renewable sources. I do find it interesting how the RWNJs are so obsessed with the law until it interferes with a pet project or even a microscopic reduction in potential profits. Here in CA we had a natural gas pipeline blow out in Aliso Canyon near LA, and word is that the still venting methane may be partly making the current fire in the area harder to fight. PG&E was “convicted” and fined something like 3 million dollars (to be pulled from the ratepayers in a shell game) but the executives that deferred the San Bruno maintenance to raise their bonuses will not return them, much less face jail time for their gross negligence (at best, I don’t know if CA has a “depraved indifference” standard). The San Mateo prosecutor asked for a sharply reduced fine and has never explained it in the two weeks since that decision was made. The promises of extraction companies are worthless but they do have a lot of money to buy politicos.
    However, as far as the Sioux are concerned, I think they actually have more leverage federally because of the treaties since the USG has already laid the marker that they are sovereign within their treaty reservations. So, if the Sioux arrest every person that sets foot on their reservation to build the pipeline after the tribe makes pipeline building illegal, there is not much ND’s governor can do. As far as his government is concerned, they are independent.

    • P J Evans says:

      That wasn’t a pipeline, it was a storage well. The casing developed a hole several hundred feet down (the well was 8000 feet deep). Pipeline would have been much faster and easier to fix.

      • P J Evans says:

        Also, there’s no fire in the area – I live in the area, ferGhu’ssake. In fact, I was up near there this afternoon, at the shopping center on Rinaldi at Corbin. (No fires within 40 miles of here. The one in Cajon Pass is 80 miles away.)

    • Evangelista says:

      Fines in cases like the Alito Canyon blowout event are inappropriate, and Constitutionally illegal, because there was no willful misconduct or malice, only an accident. All money spent in the event aftermath should be sent to repair damage, aid recoveries and improve structures and equipment to avoid additional events and incidents.

      The impositions of fines, or ‘penalties’ by government entities are illegal and improper, essentially government agency shakedowns of the entities the opportunists in government see opportunities to coerce into paying moneys. In other words, they are gangster-government illegal activities, and RICO.

      In the Sioux reservation case the situation is different: The Sioux, through their objectings, are forcing the government agents and agencies, and industry operators, to make deliberate decisions to engage in willful actions. For this pre-event objection ‘groundwork’, if, and when, a blowout occurs that damages the Sioux Reservation, and people, the perpetrating decisions to disregard the raised concerns will show malice, which will make the decisions and actions of the government and operators today malicious and maliciously (criminally) damaging.

      So the Sioux, today, are not wasting their time objecting to the pipeline, they are establishing criminal liability for the operators, their backers (shareholders) and the states involved and their officers and shareholders (citizens and taxpayers), who will have criminal (non-suspendable) liabilities in the likely, if not certain, event of an eventual blowout or other Reservation environment damaging event.

      What this means is that in the event of an event damaging to the objectors nd those they represent, the state and operator operatives, and those they represent, shareholders and taxpayers, will be liable, and attachable, and will have to pay, even if it bankrupts them, and even after bankruptcy, and even if taxes in the criminally involved states have to be quadrupled, or more.

      Thus, from now, in the event of a damaging event, the Sioux suffering damages should be pretty well insured. There is nothing any can do about corrupt governments and corporations running rough-shod as they want to and damaging environments. There never has been, there never will be. So the best any can do is establish their criminal liabilities absolutely, to assure recoveries from the corrupt conspirators, their heirs and children and grandchildren.

      • rugger9 says:

        Interesting thought, it does make it harder to claim ignorance by the PTBs (even though they will).
        I was curious about the sovereignty question, since reservations are special legal cases. It’s not the same, but I notice that one of the reasons the Keystone XL pipeline was planned as it was had a great deal to do with a First Nations tribe blocking access to the Pacific through BC.
        PJ – I was only reporting stuff tossed around here about why the current fire is so ferocious (several comments like “the worst we’ve ever seen in decades”). For us in NorCal, LA is all the same and infested with Dodger fans.

        • rugger9 says:

          Yeah, I know the Giants are sucking wind. When Kershaw went down, I figured the Dodgers were toast, but Nooooooooo.

        • Evangelista says:


          Native owned lands sovereignty is more straight up and straight-forward in Canada than in the U.S., where sovereignty is “sovereignty”, muddied and muddled by U.S. government defining ‘guardian’ status to itself (which it also defined assignable), and “ward” status to indigenous peoples (leaving the governmental organization [tribal] status out of the equation [so it could be disregarded]). The effect was to de-sovereignize, to effectively legally de-legitimize the indigenous from sovereignty. It also remove indigenous people from international law protection, and removed the applying United States legal structures from control under the U.S. Constitution. It moved any and all questions involving indigenous people to an invented area of law that we, today, know as “Family Law”. An invented field of “law”, in both federal and state application inventions, in which no preceding legality exists, or has existed. Where all “law” applied is “law” that appliers have invented, or may invent, and that has been mace precedent, or may be made to become so, and so become, effectively, “law” for “lawful” application. No prior law or legally defined law exists to control this created “Family Law” construction, which means nothing exists (except in course of application precedents) for reversion or reference and control (designated recourse and remedy legally, and without which systems of law are not legally, or legitimately, systems of law [they are judiciary and lawyer toys where anything may be done and anything may go]).

          From the FDR era through the present U.S. Federal judges and courts have been attempting to “de-arbitrarify” the malice and opportunism based agglomeration of “precedents” to attempt to put at least a patina of legal veneer on the agglomerate heap of shit-“law” United States “legal” abusings, misusings, justificatings, opinionatings and dicta-tings have slopped into records in their abusings and defraudings of indigenous peoples, whose becoming, in mid-twentieth century, United States citizens gave them capacity to ‘grow-up’ and become adults, at least as members of the population. Indigenous tribal structures, not being able to achieve citizenship, retain “ward” status, with “rights”, if any in reality, subject to their “guardians” approvals.

          Thus, in the United States, while an adult Sioux individual may today freely leave his or her designated concentration-camp (known in euphemism as “reservations, and today no longer guarded to prevent such escapes) and be an adult individual in U.S. society, in the concentration-camp he or she is not that individual, but a part of a ‘child’ under the ‘guardianship’ of the United States’, and under its assigned Bureau of Indian Affairs ‘governess’ (the U.S. used to farm them out to religious , Methodist, Quaker, etc., foster-care).

          As you can see from this, in today’s commercially owned United States (the United States government is, today the world’s biggest corporate subsidiary) the commercial kids are the ‘natural children’ of the United States, and tend to be the favored kids (with the non-commercial kids [including individual indigenous ones] less favored). The indigenous tribes are step-kids, not natural (to de-confuse the legal constructs involved in these relationships see “color of law” and “legal fictions” in law dictionaries and exegeses). When ones of the natural kids want to kick some of the step kids off a corner of a play area, or take over, or build across some step kids’ play areas they are supposed to ask, but especially if they are favored, commercial kids, they can generally just announce and then just do. The step kids have to complain to a “parent”, meaning a U.S. judge, and, where the “parents” don’t seem to give a damn, try to elicit sympathy from some of the other kids, the natural ones, the more favored among the less favored, who stand a better chance of being listened to than the step kids, who tend to be looked on as a nuisance liability/responsibility.

          Just plug the features of the Dakota Access usiness into this framework to see what is going on, and how and why. Oh, yes, it helps to know that the purpose of law in the United States is to provide benefits to their commercial owners and livings for the owners’ favored lawyers.

  3. P J Evans says:

    The San Mateo prosecutor asked for a sharply reduced fine and has never explained it in the two weeks since that decision was made.
    Federal prosecutors, not the county DA.

    • bmaz says:

      Rugger absolutely right though that there has been no cogent explanation whatsoever. I was stunned by the decision to do so.

      • P J Evans says:

        So was I. IMO, having worked for a gas distribution company, PG&E has been fucking up its gas operations for years. Their record-keeping is truly bad – the CPUC had a report that’s worth reading; their expert is both an engineer and a lawyer – and if they have some kind of centralized tracking system, it’s only been installed in the last three or four years. (Did we have missing paperwork? Some – but AFAIK the only DOT-jurisdiction pipe with missing paper never had any in the files, because the paperwork was missing as least 30 years ago when we went looking for it.)

        I’ve seen suggestions that the feds require complete separation of gas and electric operations at those companies that do both. It’s partly because of stuff like San Bruno: the companies see that electrical distribution has more growth potential and is cheaper per customer, and focus on that; gas piping is more expensive to install and maintain, being underground.

  4. wayoutwest says:

    There seems to be a bit of confusion in this post’s question about Bakken oil being too expensive to extract. The drilling and fracking process are more expensive for these wells but once those costs are paid these wells produce oil for about the same cost as conventional wells and they will produce profits for decades even with lower oil prices.

    Until there is an economical 500 mile battery electric vehicle introduction will stall and neither electric nor hybrid is anything but a limited and not very green alternative. Because of this roadblock I’d like to know what energy sources green or otherwise will be competing with oil?

  5. Rayne says:

    wayoutwest (4:58) — There’s no confusion. Fracking in US based on existing average production and transportation costs is economically feasible when crude oil prices are at or above $65/bbl. The only way existing fracking can remain viable is to reduce cost to produce — in this case, the cost of transportation — by roughly $20/bbl. Introduction of a pipeline alone will not produce this amount of savings. Cost of capital can’t drop much lower in an economy with low inflation.

    Supply-side of market also has too many highly eager participants: Saudis+OPEC are struggling to negotiate production decreases given Iran’s re-entrance into the market, Russia desires more oil sales to boost its flagging economy, not to mention Venezuela’s economic desperation.

    Factor in decreasing oil consumption and the drop-off rate in fracking oil production versus conventional wells and there’s simply inadequate financial gain to continue fracking. Investment banks make far more money from front-running the market in dark pools with HFT than bothering to finance fracking given the current economics.

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