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Sean Hackbarth Dakota Access Pipeline protesters pin a security guard against a truck.Protesters pin a security guard against a truck in North Dakota. Photo source: Morton County (N.D.) Sheriff's Department.

Passions haven’t simmered down at a North Dakota construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Energy opponents continue to use water and cultural concerns to mask their true, anti-energy agenda.

One of those national leaders, Jane Kleeb, who fought the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska, wants to replicate her “success” in North Dakota. Only her idea of success means less energy for her fellow Americans.

And Bill McKibben, who equates fighting energy development with world war, wants to turn the Dakota Access Pipeline into a presidential campaign issue.

The involvement of a man who has written, “We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground,” shows us what this protest is really about.

It isn’t about water or cultural concerns. It’s about making it so hard to get energy from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed that production stops. “Block the infrastructure, block the development,” Rob Port wrote last month.

It’s simply a “keep it in the ground” strategy involving arrests and destruction.

McKibben, Kleeb, and their friends don’t like the shale boom at all and want to take us to a fantasy world where fossil fuels aren’t used. But that’s ignores history. These energy sources have lifted billions of people out of poverty, fueled our economic prosperity, and allowed so many of us to live healthy lives. Abandoning politically incorrect energy will leave many of us living shorter, harsher, more-miserable lives.

Blocking energy infrastructure like the Dakota Access Pipeline holds America back at a time when we’re enjoying an energy renaissance, as Matt Koch of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy explains:

Yet we run the risk of losing the advantages due to the politicization by environmentalists of the pipeline and transmission line projects needed to move energy to where it is needed. Many areas in the U.S. are already missing out on the full benefits of our energy revolution because it has been difficult to move our energy from where it is produced to where it is needed.

Along the pipeline’s construction route, August was marred with arson and threats of violence—all the while law enforcement and security personnel displayed tremendous patience and restraint.

Officer Helps #NoDAPL Protester Eat, Drink

Things continued to be ugly over the Labor Day weekend, NPR reports:

In a statement, the Morton County Sheriff's Department said protesters marched from their encampment onto private lands, where the pipeline is being constructed.

"Once protestors arrived at the construction area, they broke down a wire fence by stepping and jumping on it," the sheriff's office said. "According to numerous witnesses within five minutes the crowd of protestors, estimated to be a few hundred people became violent. They stampeded into the construction area with horses, dogs and vehicles."

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said it "was more like a riot than a protest."

Protesters hit dogs with sticks and clashed with security guards, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein acted very unpresidential by vandalizing construction equipment. A warrant for her arrest has been issued.

An important detail to this is construction is happening on private land, not on a reservation.

[To get up to speed on the issue, The Bismarck Tribune has a timeline of past stories.]

Tensions are so high that the National Guard will provide backup for law enforcement as we wait for a federal judge to rule on injunctions that may or may not delay construction or protests.

UPDATE: A federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux's request for a temporary injunction to stop work on the pipeline.

In the meantime, the protest has turned into a cause celebre. Movie stars make a blurry video supporting the pipeline protesters. Protesters are collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to support a long-term protest: propane; water; food; and blankets.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is expected to create 8,000 – 12,000 jobs, add $156 million in local sales and income taxes, and has the support of business and labor unions.

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Does America need an "All of the Above" energy strategy? Find out here. This Chamber Explainer will get you up to speed.


As I pointed out in a previous post, the effort to stop the pipeline isn’t about protecting water—pipelines have a great safety record for transporting oil and natural gas.

It’s also not about threats to tribal lands. We know this because after going through public records from the Army Corps of Engineers, SayAnythingBlob.com’s Rob Port reports the Dakota Access Pipeline route nearly matches that of gas pipeline already in the ground:

Before reading this report I had no idea there was another pipeline already running through this area, but there is. It’s called the Northern Border Pipeline. It’s a natural gas line built all the way back in 1982, and the Dakota Access Pipeline follows it often, including through the areas currently being disputed by protesters.

This is no mere coincidence. I spoke with Justin Kringstad at the ND Pipeline Authority who told me that the Dakota Access line “generally follows the same corridor” as the Northern Border line, and that this sort of thing is “not uncommon.” It can be easier to get easements and regulatory approval for a pipeline built where another pipeline has already gone through.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak also told me that the Dakota Access line “tried to follow wherever possible the Northern Border pipeline.”

The two routes aren’t exact, but through the area where pipeline construction has sparked violent protests the two lines run side by side according to Energy Transfer Partners.

“We parallel this pipeline for about the last 40 miles” leading up to the Missouri River/Lake Oahe crossing spokeswoman Vickin Anderson Granado told me.

So 30 years ago, did protestors knock down fences and damage equipment when that pipeline was being constructed? Were movie stars joining in solidarity with protestors?

No, in fact, as Port notes, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission records show locals didn’t put up much of a fuss:

Northern Border and Natural [pipeline builders] contacted Native American tribes to elicit any interests or concerns regarding construction of the proposed project, especially as it affects any sites of historic, cultural, or religious significance. Northern Border received responses from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, and the Peoria Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma. The Three Affiliated Tribes expressed concern about the possible existence of archeological sites at Compressor Stations 5 and 7. No other responses expressed any concerns about the project. Natural has received no response from Native American groups.

As for the Dakota Access Pipeline, it has undergone a thorough, public review process that engaged thousands of people in the region.

Yet the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that is leading the protests didn’t attend any North Dakota Public Service Commission hearings on the pipeline. The tribe did meet with the Army Corps of Engineers numerous times.

Ron Ness of the North Dakota Petroleum Council put it well:

[T]he future of this project is jeopardized by national environmental groups that have latched onto a Native American protest as a last-ditch effort to stop a project that they could not prevent through a regular, orderly review process. These actions attempt to disrupt the very rule of law that was established by these state regulatory organizations.

Energy opponents didn’t like the end result of a public process and so are using uncivil ways to try to stop it.

Their real intentions need to be called out and their uncivil disobedience rejected.

Christopher Guith Off limits

It’s an interesting question. That we’re even entertaining it, however, shows you how far off the rails candidates from Secretary Clinton, to interest groups, to the Democratic Party Platform have gone in proposing to ban energy production on federal lands in one way, shape, or form. It’s easy to spout rhetoric to rally the troops in a campaign season, yet shouldn’t politicians be answerable for the promises they make? We think so.

This week the Institute for 21st Century Energy launched the Energy Accountability Series, designed to do exactly that…hold politicians and interest groups accountable for their proposals. 

In this first report, we answer the question: What If Energy Production Was Banned on Federal Lands & Waters?  In short, the answer is that America’s economy would lose nearly 400,000 jobs and $70 billion in annual GDP. Considering that we get about 25% of our energy from federal lands, it’s a wonder these numbers aren’t higher.  But if you live in a state with lots of federal energy production, the impacts could be devastating. 

Take Colorado. It could lose 50,000 jobs and over $120 million in annual royalties, nearly half of which is ear-marked for state education. 

Wyoming? It would kiss $9.3 billion in economic output goodbye. 

And New Mexico could see almost $500 million in royalties and over 24,000 jobs vanish.

Since states cannot readily borrow the way the federal government can and they also must balance their budgets UNLIKE the federal government, the lost income from a ban would hit especially hard on critical state services like education, roads, and first-responders.

What’s at stake for future of #energy in #CO? @KarenAHarbert weighs in on @ColoradoOilGas panel #RMES2016 pic.twitter.com/D0EEksniF2

— Energy Institute (@Energy21) August 25, 2016

That’s just for onshore.

Turning our attention to offshore federal production, the impacts of a federal energy ban in the Gulf of Mexico would be even more painful.  Oil production from the federal Gulf accounts for just under 20% of total domestic production.  Shutting off that spigot would put the country on the wrong track, with less energy security and more job losses. 

The Gulf States of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama stand to lose over 110,000 jobs and $24 billion in lost GDP. 

Moreover, a federal law called the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act requires the federal government to share a portion of the royalties it collects with the adjacent states that “host” the energy production.  While this has been happening on a small scale since 2009, next year it’s scheduled to skyrocket to as much as $350 million annually.  That’s a huge chunk of change those states are legally and rightfully entitled to, but they won’t see a dime of it if energy production is banned.

Federal energy production is too crucial to America’s energy security and economic health. Politicians who support banning it should have to explain why.

Unfortunately that has yet to happen, but our new report will ensure that Americans understand the very real consequences of such backward-looking policies.

Editor's note: This originally appeared on The Institute for 21st Century Energy's blog.

Sean Hackbarth Pipelines in front of a dusky sky.

August temperatures aren’t the only things flaring up in the Great Plains as anti-energy protesters try to stop construction of an oil pipeline.

Emboldened by President Barack Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015, anti-energy protesters have set their sights on stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A valuable addition to U.S. energy infrastructure, the pipeline will cross four states connecting the oil-rich Bakken region in North Dakota with other pipelines in Illinois, allowing oil to reach refineries and making America less dependent on foreign imports.

dapl-map-full.jpg Route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.Route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.Route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Source: Energy Transfer Partners, L.P.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, says the $3.7 billion project will create 8,000 - 12,000 construction jobs and inject $156 million in sales and income taxes to local economies. Lachlan Markay at the Washington Free Beacon notes it has the backing of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).

Approval of the pipeline’s construction went through the standard process of public hearings and comment periods with four states and the federal government. But the public permitting process hasn’t stopped protesters.

In North Dakota, hundreds of protestors—many not from the area--have built a camp near a construction site where the pipeline will travel under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline’s water crossing there in July.

The protests have turned ugly. Local public radio reports that construction has been halted because law enforcement worried that some protesters had pipe bombs and guns. Dozens have been arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. The FBI is investigating an incident where someone pointed a laser pointer on a North Dakota state government plane that was watching the protesters.

The protests got so bad that on Friday North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) issued an emergency declaration in the construction area to make “available other state resources for the purpose of protecting the health, safety and well-being of the general public and those involved in the protest.”

On Tuesday, LIUNA, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Teamsters, and United Association sent a letter to Gov. Dalrymple urging him to allow construction to restart: 

We strongly encourage you to utilize the power of your office to keep our workers safe and to ensure protestors are following the letter of the law of North Dakota. While they may have a right to protest, we also have a right to do our jobs in a safe environment. Protestors who did not avail themselves of nearly two years of public discourse of the project should not be allowed to continue endangering themselves, construction workers, or law enforcement while trespassing on land legally leased to this project.”

North Dakota hasn’t been the only place where violence has broken out. Earlier this month, along the pipeline’s path in Iowa, three arsons were committed, damaging $1 million in heavy construction equipment.

Pipelines are Safe

Protesters argue that the pipeline will threaten local water supplies, but the fact is pipelines safely move oil all the time. A report from the American Petroleum Institute and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines finds that 99.999% of crude oil and petroleum products are safely delivered. In 2014, 9.3 billion barrels of crude oil were delivered—a 31% increase since 2010.

While more oil has been transported, there have been fewer spills. “The number of pipeline incidents per year in public spaces (i.e. outside of operator facilities) have declined by more than half since 1999,” the report notes.

What’s more, pipelines aren’t a new thing. Hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines every day safely move energy to households and businesses that need it. For instance, the amount of crude oil pipelines has increased by 29% to 72,400 miles in the last five years.

dot_gastransmission-hazliquidpipelinesmap.jpg  U.S. Department of Transportation.Map of U.S. pipeline transportation system. Source: U.S. Department of Transportation.Source: U.S. Department of Transportation.
Part of “Keep It In the Ground” Movement

Given that pipelines have been around for decades, have a strong safety record, and the Dakota Access Pipeline was closely studied before receiving its permits, we should wonder what the protests are really about.

It’s not fears about water pollution. As North Dakota resident Rob Port at SayAnythingBlog.com, who has been all over this story explains, it’s about stopping oil development period:

The protesters say the pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River at its confluence with the Cannon Ball river near the reservation, puts clean water at risk. That’s certainly an important issue for the reservation, which draws its drinking water from the river near the pipeline crossing, but it’s worth remembering that the American landscape is dotted with pipelines crossing rivers. There are thousands upon thousands of pipelines in America, and building them would have been impossible if we didn’t know how to get them across rivers.

Which makes the claims of the protesters about the Dakota Access project curious. This project is nothing new. It’s an important bit of infrastructure for America’s renewed energy industry. It’s of particular importance to North Dakota’s oil industry in that it will ease oil transport headaches and make development in this state more resilient to low prices.

As new infrastructure, it’s a game changer. But in terms of its actual construction? This isn’t groundbreaking stuff.

But then, these protests aren’t really about the pipeline. They’re about obstructing infrastructure which would support the on-going development of oil resources

The activists air-dropping into North Dakota from all over the country, and even the world, are not anti-pipeline so much as they’re anti-oil. That’s an important distinction. While it may be within the realm of the reasonable to protest a specific infrastructure project, I think most Americans would consider trying to choke the domestic oil industry to death by blocking infrastructure to be an extreme goal.

Don’t believe me? Consider the website for EarthJustice, an activist group which has filed a lawsuit against the pipeline on behalf of the Standing Rock tribe and is currently seeking an injunction to block legally the on-going construction protesters like Woodley are trying to block physically.

The group describes themselves as “opposing infrastructure development that could lock us into decades of dirty fuels.”

“We are working with affected communities to fight pipelines, export terminals and other major infrastructure projects that will spur more gas drilling and burning for decades to come,” the group says in the portion of their website dedicated to describing their work.

Block the infrastructure, block the development.

The “Keep it in the ground” movement rears its head, not that they're their hiding that fact. Bold Alliance founder Jane Kleeb, one of the ringleaders in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, told Politico, "What should have happened after Keystone got rejected was a huge influx of resources to local and state groups fighting pipelines."

Stopping the Dakota Access Pipelines and making it more difficult to get oil out of the Bakken—no matter the cost to jobs and energy security—is a means to their radical end of eliminating energy use in the U.S.