The Williston Herald recently published an opinion column from James “Spider” Marks, retired U.S. Army Major General and strategic advisor to the GAIN Coalition, regarding the importance of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the risk presented by ongoing permitting and legal challenges.
A federal court ruled in March that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must conduct additional environmental review, known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), despite having already produced an Environmental Assessment (EA) and subsequent review which found the crude oil pipeline posed a “Finding of No Significant Impact.” The pipeline has been safely operating for nearly three years.
Now, activists have called for the pipeline’s operations to be suspended until the additional EIS is completed – a process which could take years. But as Marks writes, such challenges come at a cost:
The decision to pursue needless litigation from known fossil fuel opponents who have one objective in mind – to shut down the pipeline, which has safely operated for nearly three years – represents a dangerous blow to American energy infrastructure when it is more important than ever.
Activists’ opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline is not rooted in fact. Rather, it is based on an ideological opposition to the use of fossil fuels – which provide the mainstay of American energy. Gambling with our energy infrastructure in the midst of a global pandemic is a recipe for disaster. As Marks writes:
Clearance to operate was granted on the merits of the pipeline’s technology, route, integrity, and oversight; those factors are not impacted by a duplicative review. Further, a halt to operations would likely spur more litigation to many other companies and contracts that affect the entire supply chain. The repercussions of such a ruling could create a ripple effect that would be disastrous to not only the industry, but the entire economy…
…With energy markets roiling, the last thing these companies need is for regulatory guardrails to be undermined and new, unexpected, and often frivolous challenges to arise with ease despite thorough and safe development and review.
An added harmful effect of restricting pipeline operations may be reverting progress made towards achieving greater energy security. The growth of the American energy industry has reduced our reliance on foreign energy sources while increasing our energy exports. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently reported energy exports from the United States reached an all-time high in 2019 – the first time in 67 years that annual U.S. gross energy exports exceeded U.S. gross energy imports.
Marks concludes that pipelines have been crucial to achieving that energy independence. Ensuring safe and efficient transport of our energy resources is key to bolstering American energy production – which reduces reliance on foreign energy sources and strengthens the US position in global affairs. In order to maintain this energy success, policymakers must ensure regulatory certainty with a straightforward permitting and approval process for infrastructure development.
…The Dakota Access Pipeline, despite artificial controversy, has succeeded in safely bolstering our economy and energy security. Those gains are now at risk of being undone, and the fallout won’t be limited to a single company. The current case surrounding DAPL will set a precedent for all future energy infrastructure projects, and the wrong decision could damage a critical domestic industry and weaken our international positioning.