U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Energy Blog

Energy Blog

US Chamber of Commerce Blog

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

Don’t expect the Pipeline Wars to simmer down, because some radical opponents will go to any lengths to stop them.

Inside Sources reports one group of pipeline protesters is selling an ecoterrorism manual to instruct others on how to fight energy infrastructure projects:

They call it DAM. That’s short for Direct Action Manual. Groups connected to the protest camp for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania are selling copies for $25. Published by Earth First! — an openly radical environmentalist (sic) group and journal — the manual lays out protest techniques for use by environmentalists. Some of these approaches were even used at the pipeline protests in North Dakota last year. Earth First! supports violent actions against energy infrastructure development and the manual itself is essentially an ecoterrorist’s handbook, laying out techniques and approaches to stop various forms of energy infrastructure development. Now on its third edition, its publishers are supporters of the protest against the Mariner 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania and worked to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in the past.

The report goes into some of the tactics mentioned in the book:

“The possibilities are really endless, and you should let your imagination run wild,” the Direct Action Manual advises. “Do they only value money and property? Some slashed tires, paint stripper, and sand in the gas tank can certainly make them think twice about if their choices are worth it…Channel your inner younger sibling energy and you’ll be sure to make someone’s life hell.”

This is followed by a section detailing how to turn off lights and water at someone’s home or business and recipes for DIY stink bombs and “critter bombs,” involving a dead animal.

Many of those violent tactics were used in the protests surrounding the recently-completed Dakota Access Pipeline: Arson;  rioting; vandalism; tires slashed and hoses cut on heavy machinery; construction and security workers attacked; Molotov cocktails launched at police.


What’s more, during the protests, pipeline opponents calling themselves, "Climate Direct Action," attacked four other pipelines. One expert warned their actions could’ve created a “catastrophic” pipeline disaster.

Now with an energy-friendly president in the White House, it should be easier to get oil and natural gas pipeline projects through the federal permitting process. In response, “Keep it in the ground” folks may resort to more violence to stop them.

Energy infrastructure developers and law enforcement must be vigilant. Also, anyone (or groups) tempted to join these pipeline protests—like celebrities—should think twice about the types of people they may be associating with.

Spirited debate is an American tradition, but it crosses the line when it becomes violent.

Heath Knakmuhs Factory, Arizona, Environment, Fumes, Page - Arizona

There certainly has been a plethora of dramatic reporting on last week’s “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” executive order signed by President Trump. Some view it as the rebirth of America’s coal industry, others say it will have little effect, and still others are lamenting the end of the planet.

In reality, while Section 4 of that Executive Order specifically directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “take all steps necessary” to review the now infamous Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Executive Order itself does not act to change the overreaching, generation-shifting contents of the CPP. That is precisely why activist groups are not anticipated to dedicate one of their many lawsuits to opposing the Executive Order itself. Instead, the Executive Order essentially signals that the CPP is now akin to a boat, sitting in the middle of a harbor, with no engine to guide it to port. It is now up to a recentered EPA, led by former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, to bring the boat into safe harbor.

The original CPP was highly controversial, and in our view, ineffective at having much impact on climate change. It spawned one of the most wide-ranging legal challenges in memory, filed by over 160 Petitioners – led by the U.S. Chamber and 28 states – united in opposition to the plan. Sure, there were environmental activists and some liberal-leaning states gathered in EPA’s corner, but when the drivers of America’s economy weighed in, 166 state and local business groups spoke firmly against the EPA’s plan. This broad-based opposition was based on several concerns:

The CPP represented an unlawful overreach, with the EPA claiming unprecedented authority over the electricity sector that is not lawful under the Clean Air Act; The CPP attempted to regulate activities and investments apart from the actual power plants covered by the statute, and in many cases forced regulated facilities to close down altogether; and The plan seized from the states their role under the Clean Air Act to balance a reliable and cost-effective electricity generation mix while making progress to meet heightened environmental standards.

These concerns – and others – were taken seriously by the Supreme Court, so much so that the Court took the unusual step of issuing a stay of the CPP while it is reviewed by the judicial system.

Now, we know for sure what direction the Trump Administration will be taking. The Department of Justice has already moved forward with a request to hold in abeyance – or freeze – the D.C. Circuit’s current consideration of the merits of the Clean Power Plan.

The reasoning for this pause is that if EPA is going to withdraw or fix what’s wrong with the CPP, then why continue to litigate a regulation that is no more? Article III of the Constitution typically bars federal courts from issuing advisory opinions – or opinions on cases than no longer represent an actual controversy. So, provided that the D.C. Circuit follows this view, the litigation will go dormant as the EPA reworks the plan. However, if anything has been predictable about the litigation associated with the CPP, it has been its unpredictability. Thus, nobody should count on this case going cold until the court declares it so.

Either way, the EPA now has its work cut out for it. A detailed review of the underpinnings and mandates within the plan will come next. Luckily, much of this work has been done in the voluminous briefings, pleadings, and motions that were carefully crafted in association with the litigation of the CPP.

Next, the EPA will need to repair, repeal and replace, or just simply jettison the CPP altogether. What path the EPA will take is anybody’s guess. Whatever approach the agency takes, it will have to follow the public review and comment requirements of the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act; a fact the EPA just acknowledged. As such, a modified or repealed CPP may be months – perhaps even years – away once comment periods and the inevitable litigation have finally concluded.

The bottom line is that it seems quite likely that the CPP as it currently stands will never be implemented or enforced. From our perspective, that means that we can now get back to a more balanced discussion about continuing to make environmental progress while utilizing our domestic energy resources. Ultimately, these resources drive economic growth through increased manufacturing and lower costs to businesses and consumers. That’s good for everyone.

Sean Hackbarth Pipelines in Cushing, Ok.Pipelines in Cushing, Ok. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.

In the battle over energy infrastructure, even though the pro-energy side has gotten some pipeline wins, the need for continued construction will continue, and with that continuing to make the case for them.

Let’s mention two wins.

In North Dakota, the Dakota Access Pipeline is almost ready to go into service. This fact has already given a boost to drilling on the Bakken:

The state's drilling rig count has jumped 40 percent since early February, when Trump gave final approval to the pipeline. By the end of the year, analysts expect the rig count to rise another 10 percent or more.  

Last month, the Trump administration signed off on the Keystone XL pipeline. While legal challenges are underway, the pipeline now has an advocate for the project in the White House.

Once both these projects are behind us, as former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Tony Clark acknowledges, the need for pipelines and other energy infrastructure won’t go away:

First, for the foreseeable future, residents of the United States will continue to rely on petroleum products such as crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids like butane, ethane and propane to sustain their everyday lives. Second, pipelines remain, by far, the safest means by which to transport those energy goods. Third, the United States continues to work steadily toward the diversification of its energy sources, utilizing energy goods produced here at home and lessening our reliance on energy from volatile regions elsewhere in the world.  Fourth, a pressing need for infrastructure remains in growing production regions within the United States – such as the Marcellus, Bakken, and Permian shale regions – to markets within and for export to allies abroad.

These facts are too often ignored by opponents of all pipeline infrastructure projects.  While there may always be those who incorrectly insist that a full transition to renewable energy will occur almost overnight, it is vital that our local, state, and national leaders legislate, regulate, and provide oversight that is grounded in reality.

Even as new energy resources are developed, Americans continue to need traditional energy to power our cars, produce our consumer goods, heat our homes, and supply our businesses.  As a nation we must prioritize and focus on improving energy infrastructure projects that will deliver access to American energy in the safest and most reliable and environmentally responsible manner possible. 

Energy isn’t distributed precisely where it’s consumed. Therefore,  we need to build infrastructure to transport oil from North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’ Permian Basin and natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast to consumers across the country or around the world.

Anti-energy, “Keep it in the ground” activists will do all they can to block these necessary projects—that’s what they live for.

But things are looking up. After eight years, we have an administration in Washington, DC who understands the economic imperative and job-creating ability of domestic energy and the necessity of pipelines and other energy infrastructure to support it.