RealClear Energy recently published an op-ed by GAIN’s Patrice Douglas, an attorney and former chairman of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, regarding U.S. District Court Judge Boasberg’s recent decision to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to continue operating while the Army Corps conducts additional review of a 1,000-foot water crossing under Lake Oahe. Boasberg’s decision affirms that regulatory experts should have authority over pipeline safety.
Earlier this year, the Corps independently determined that DAPL, after nearly four years of operating safely, does not need to suspend operations while the review is completed.
Douglas points out the tensions this decision has brought to the surface. The balance between regulatory powers and legal oversight is usually a foggy one to figure out. As Douglas puts it, “Judges and lawyers are good at parsing legalese. They are not experts experienced at assessing the technical detail necessary to determine the safety of sophisticated, complex infrastructure. Regulators, on the other hand, are.” Thankfully, the Biden Administration has acknowledged the subject matter expertise of the Army Corps and sided with their reasoning in recent actions.
With the recently displayed vulnerability of US energy markets (through the cyber attack of the Colonial Pipeline, blockage of the Suez Canal, and so on), it is clear that a DAPL shutdown would have reverberating repercussions throughout the nation. Douglas draws attention to the hard numbers: “The pipeline moves about half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil per day. Legal filings suggest the disruption could cause as much as $1.4 billion in lost tax revenue and 24,000 jobs.” She continues to highlight further damage, “the [shutdown] would have shifted shipments to rail and truck, which have a much poorer track record.” The effects of a shutdown would be felt economically, socially, and environmentally.
The facts reign clear in this case. Halting the DAPL’s operations on behalf of .002 percent of the full pipeline does not make sense. The Army Corps of Engineers recognizes this. The Biden Administration sees this. And thankfully, Judge Boasberg defended this same position: trust the experts.