Pipeline Politics
Trump Green-Lights Dakota Access Pipeline

The Trump administration has achieved one of its first major infrastructure goals after the Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that it would be restarting construction on the Dakota Access pipeline. The Dakota Access drew the ire of nearby Native Americans upset that the pipeline will travel underneath Lake Oahe, which serves as the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock reservation, just to the south of the pipeline’s route. The Obama administration prodded the Army to halt construction on the controversial project late last year after protestors descended on the Lake Oahe site. That final effort of the outgoing administration was quickly reversed by President Trump, who ordered the pipeline built in an “expedited manner.”

Now, as Reuters reports, the Dakota Access pipeline could start transporting crude from North Dakota’s productive Bakken shale fields south to Gulf coast refineries 100 days from now:

In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said that it would allow the final section of the line to tunnel under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. This could enable the $3.8 billion pipeline to begin operation as soon as June.

The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion, and Tuesday’s decision drew praise from supporters of the project and outrage from activists, including promises of a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Construction on the pipeline is already 85 percent completed, and this last section transits land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, so it seems all but certain that Bakken crude will have a new path to market this summer. Courts are the last pathway left for protestors to challenge the project, but the Standing Rock Sioux already saw a request to halt the pipeline rejected back in September.

Opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline can generally be divided into two camps: those concerned over the project’s impact on the Standing Rock Sioux, and those worried about its climate change implications. The tribe is still part of an ongoing case about whether or not it was properly consulted by the Army, and the DC Circuit Court will be able to judge the merits of that case better than we can.

But to the environmentalists, we’d like to point out that this pipeline won’t have a measurable impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Just as was the case with Keystone, the Dakota Access doesn’t itself emit carbon dioxide, it only transports a fossil fuel that does. Crucially, all of the oil due to travel the Dakota Access this summer would be coming out of the ground regardless of the outcome of this one specific pipeline project. Its construction won’t make or break Bakken shale production; instead, it gives producers a cheaper, more efficient, and safer option for getting transporting their crude to refineries.

Don’t expect greens to come around to this logic, though. They willfully ignored these facts when they made Keystone their marquee issue during Obama’s second term, and they’re likely to make these pipelines their enemy number one during Trump’s administration. The Army Corps of Engineers may be constructing its final segment, but the Dakota Access pipeline saga isn’t over yet.

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