Facts and Nonpartisanship Must Drive Pipeline Infrastructure Approval

Bloomberg Law recently published an op-ed by GAIN strategic adviser Col. Tom Magness arguing that facts should drive pipeline approval and noting the unfair criticism targeting the Army Corps of Engineers who are simply following the process. The piece highlights the Corps’ recent differing actions on the Line 3 and Line 5 projects, and highlights the Corps’ role with DAPL.

In its 219-year history, the Army Corps of Engineers has flown under the radar by many regards. However, this has not been the case since highly-politicized, high-profile pipeline cases have come to the surface. As the Corps takes on different environmental concerns, Magness says that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that will apply to all pipelines. Each situation has to be assessed with precision and evaluated by facts, not being swayed by loud opinion.

Environmentalists are hoping to see that the momentum from the Keystone XL cancellation will roll over to Dakota Access. However, if treated on a case-by-case basis, which Magness believes we can trust the Corps to do, DAPL will stand. After more than four years of safe operation, DAPL remains the safest and most efficient way to transport oil over truck and train.  These facts speak loudly, and, despite the vocal minority of environmentalists, the Corps has sided with the facts thus far.

Magness writes in part, “This is not the first time that the Corps professionals have been the target of criticism for simply doing their jobs, following the facts, and issuing the correct—albeit unpopular with some—decisions. Much like the Enbridge projects, the Corps found itself in the middle of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) political firestorm. Environmental groups were calling for DAPL to be shut down while an EIS was being conducted. As usual, the Corps followed the process in place and determined that the pipeline could remain operational, relaying their position to U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on two separate occasions. In turn, Boasberg ruled in May that DAPL would not be shut down pending the environmental review before ultimately dismissing the case in June.”

Army Corps nominee pledges not to politicize DAPL environmental review

The Hill recently highlighted questions Michael Connor, President Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, received during a hearing this week regarding the Corps’ review of the Dakota Access Pipeline and concerns of politicization. The Biden nominee pledged to ensure that the environmental review will not be politicized, and will focus on the science and facts.

U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota asked Connor, “If you’re confirmed, with this EIS continuing… do I have your commitment that you’ll do everything you can to keep politics out of the EIS process?” 

Connor asserted, “Yes, we need to move forward consistent with law and the very clear direction the court has given. Those are legal questions and they’re technical questions that need to be followed up. I want to oversee that and understand it given the visibility of the issue and the importance of tribal consultation.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also questioned Connor regarding DAPL during the hearing. With assurance, Conner maintained that he would be following every law with respect to the directions of the court. The Massachusetts Democrat’s concern was met head-on with Connor’s confidence in the ability to get the job done correctly. Connor continued to say that improving relationships between tribal communities and the Corps would “be one of [his] highest priorities” and “Tribal consultation is not a check-the-box exercise, it’s got to be robust [and] meaningful and that means it’s got to be substantive in the interaction with tribes.”

As the nominated assistant secretary for the Army for civil works asserted, the Dakota Access Pipeline review will not be politicized if he is entrusted to lead the Corps. It will be about the facts, figures, and downright truth.

Removing the partisan pipeline lens

The Bismarck Tribune this past week featured an op-ed by GAIN spokesman Craig Stevens focusing on a recent poll that highlighted strong bipartisan support for American energy and pipeline development. Oil and gas pipelines have unfortunately become political footballs that are tossed about in the wake of loud minority opinions that don’t accurately reflect how most Americans feel. Let’s stick to the facts.

As Stevens writes:

“Poll results show strong bipartisan support for commonsense energy and infrastructure policies, including oil and natural gas pipelines, which 71% of respondents believe are an effective and efficient way to transport energy. Break that number down and you will find strong bipartisan support as 68% of Democrats polled agree. This bipartisanship extends to views on our energy independence, with 93% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats believing the country should work toward that goal and not rely on foreign energy sources. When it comes to existing pipelines that are safely operating, an overwhelming majority (79%) is against shutting them down.”

In North Dakota specifically,

“82% of respondents believe oil and natural gas pipelines are an effective and efficient way to transport energy and 89% believe we must work towards achieving energy independence. The majority of respondents (84%) think active pipelines running safely should remain operational. Further, more than three-quarters of North Dakota respondents specifically support the continued operation of DAPL, which includes 73% of Native Americans polled.”

This presented data signals that pipelines are not a polarizing issue among most Americans. As Stevens asserts, “the discussion of our energy future should transcend political parties.” It shouldn’t be about opinion; it must center around fact. And the fact of the matter is that pipelines are crucial to our nation’s energy infrastructure system. Reliable, affordable energy for all Americans cannot be undervalued. 

Stevens finished the piece with this key passage:  “Energy independence and security are critical to our nation’s future, but it will be difficult to achieve either if pipeline opponents have their way. That is why bipartisanship should drive energy policies, not a small group of extremist environmental activists with a big megaphone. Americans do not view pipelines through a partisan lens and neither should lawmakers in Washington.”

Violent pipeline protests becoming all too common

Duluth News Tribune featured an op-ed by James “Spider” Marks this past week focusing on violent and unlawful pipeline protests that have become far too frequent in recent years. Protesters have shown they are willing to destroy property, damage the environment, and put the safety and wellbeing of workers, law enforcement, and innocent bystanders at risk to make their point. Marks explains why this approach is unacceptable and irrational.

Last month, nearly 200 protestors were arrested at a Line 3 pipeline construction site in Minnesota. As Marks outlines, there was extensive vandalism of contractor equipment, unlawful entry into multiple construction trailers, ironic destruction of environmental safeguards, and property damage that extended to every element of the site. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage was incurred by one indigenous-owned contractor, Gordon Construction.

Construction company leaders of Native American roots, such as Matt Gordon, believe that pipeline opponents are “shielding themselves with Native American” to oppose permitted pipeline development. Gordon, along with several other Native American business leaders came together to assert, “Protests that disrupt work, damage property, and threaten our employees while claiming to be on behalf of our Native people is creating additional tension and consequences within our tribal communities.”

On top of the Line 3 vandalism, there have been a myriad of other pipeline attacks varying in tactic and intensity across the nation. Among other instances, thousands of protestors illegally camped, vandalized property, attacked law enforcement officials, and littered over 48 million pounds of trash near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Now more than 4 years later, the Dakota Access Pipeline continues to operate safely and serves as a catalyst of our nation’s economy and benefactor to US energy security. 

There is an appropriate time and place to express concern over American energy policy and infrastructure development. And as demonstrated repeatedly, dangerous protests are not the correct way.  Marks concludes:

“Opponents choose to ignore the science and facts around the need for infrastructure, the extensive permitting and approval process, and the impressive safety record of modern pipelines in favor of ideology and rhetoric, with no apparent regard for the law. While there may be disagreements regarding pipeline development and American energy policy, destroying property, breaking the law, and threatening the safety of hard-working tradesmen and tradeswomen is not an acceptable form of dissent.”

Bakken Pipeline Expected to Help North Dakota Production, Natural Gas Capture

Natural Gas Intelligence recently reported WBI Energy Inc. earlier this month received approval to build the North Bakken pipeline, which is expected to help accommodate the increase in natural gas production, reduce flaring in North Dakota, and strengthen the state’s pipeline network.

Currently, the pipeline has received approval for an expansion project that will commence in the coming weeks and finish by the year’s end. As each one is, this pipeline is crucial by the fact that it will be the saving grace of the region. The area north of Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota is particularly congested, referred to as a “choke point” for any additional gas capture. Once online, the pipeline will subsequently free up the area for additional gas capture investment and more residue gas takeaway.

 The article also highlights the desperate need for bolstered energy infrastructure, asserting that more investment will be needed to meet the state’s gas capture goals by 2023. Pipeline authority director, Justin Kringstad, highlighted that gas capture will continue to be a challenge:

 “We need to make sure connected wells have adequate capacity all the way from the wellhead to the processing plant,” he said. “It is going to be a continual challenge to stay on top of the gathering systems, making sure compression is adequate, and the pigging operations to clean liquids is timed appropriately.”

In countries like Vietnam and Japan, there is a drastic need for increased energy infrastructure. Our own American states are finding themselves in the same position of desolation. Catalysts such as the Bakken pipeline funnel resources into the lives of everyday Americans through bringing reliable, affordable energy, economic welfare, and environmental benefit.

With the finalized construction of the Bakken pipeline in North Dakota, we are taking one more step towards gaining our energy independence once more. Investment into projects such as the Bakken will prove to be fruitful on a micro and macro scale for decades to come.

Former Obama, Trump Energy Secretaries Advocate for Natural Gas

E&E News reported former Energy Secretaries Ernest Moniz and Dan Brouillette said yesterday that the U.S. needs to continue exporting natural gas to support its allies around the world. Other speakers, including officials from Japan and Vietnam, echoed their remarks, saying gas will be important even as more countries try to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and as financiers press the gas industry to curb its pollution.

Natural gas has been widely recognized for its leading role in lowering carbon emissions in the power sector. As E&E notes, gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned for electricity. Continued growth in the natural gas sector will help support the long-term transition to include more renewables in the grid. As depicted by support from both Moniz and Brouillette, curbing carbon emissions and supporting American energy development should not be a partisan matter.

Further, advancements in hydraulic fracturing have helped accommodate the shale boom here in the U.S., allowing producers to safely and affordably access its abundance in key formations such as the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and Permian in Texas. Fortunately, infrastructure developers have invested billions in new pipelines, export terminals, and other facilities to support this growth and play a key role in safely and efficiently transporting the fuel that American consumers and our allies around the globe rely on each day.

Line 3 Opponents “Shielding Themselves with Native Americans”

Line 3 protesters earlier this month took their “activism” to a new level when they trespassed and destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment at a pump station site near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. As GAIN previously noted:

The vandalism was substantial: slashed tires, cut hoses, rocks lodged into engines, forced entry into offices, and electrical wiring tampering were all found on the scene when workers showed up for work Monday morning. More than this, destruction of environmental safeguards that were intended to control erosion and protect water quality were bombarded and obliterated— hypocrisy levels are high. Enbridge, the attacked pipeline company, acted quickly to protect employees. Workers were evacuated from the site, including employees of Indigenous-owned contractor Gordon Construction from the White Earth Reservation. Gordon Construction’s damaged equipment, pictured below, will be taken out of service for weeks and completely overhauled, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Fox News recently spoke with Matt Gordon, vice president of his family’s construction company in Mahnomen, MN, and a member of the White Earth Nation tribe. Gordon expressed frustration that environmental protesters claiming to speak for Native Americans vandalized his company’s equipment:

“I’m a contractor for excavation and all of my equipment on site was vandalized,” Matt Gordon told Fox News. “For the most part, a majority of the people are for the pipeline. Everybody enjoys gasoline and plastic products. The opponents are shielding themselves with Native Americans. Most of the protesters were White. Line 3 has brought back millions of dollars to the reservations.”

Fox News pointed out more than 500 Native Americans are part of the Line 3 workforce, and the project could benefit Native American-owned small businesses in the region, with a total of 5,200 construction jobs, according to Enbridge.

Protestors Vandalize Line 3 Work Site

On June 7, the Two Inlets pump station near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border was vandalized by Line 3 protestors. This project is supporting about 8,600 jobs, 6,500 of which are local. This destruction is unacceptable and an abuse of the first amendment. 

The vandalism was substantial: slashed tires, cut hoses, rocks lodged into engines, forced entry into offices, and electrical wiring tampering were all found on the scene when workers showed up for work Monday morning. More than this, destruction of environmental safeguards that were intended to control erosion and protect water quality were bombarded and obliterated— hypocrisy levels are high. Enbridge, the attacked pipeline company, acted quickly to protect employees. Workers were evacuated from the site, including employees of Indigenous-owned contractor Gordon Construction from the White Earth Reservation. Gordon Construction’s damaged equipment, pictured below, will be taken out of service for weeks and completely overhauled, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Juli Kellner, Enbridge spokesperson, weighed in, “While we respect everyone’s right to peacefully and lawfully protest, that is not what happened on Monday at the Two Inlets pump station. Protesters attempted to trap workers, while forcefully entering and then occupying the site, trespassing and criminally damaging property. This is unacceptable, and we will seek the full prosecution of all involved.”  

Violent protest it not an appropriate method of dissent. Freedom of speech and the right to assemble is a constitutional right but not when it senselessly destroys private property and puts workers, law enforcement, and protestors themselves at risk. 

Natural Gas Playing Crucial Role in Lowering Carbon Emissions

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported natural gas for power generation is playing a key role in reducing carbon emissions from the U.S. electricity sector.

Since 2005, the primary energy sources for U.S. power generation has shifted from coal to priorities to natural gas and renewables. As the EIA reports, the U.S. electric power sector produced 1,724 million metric tons (MMmt) of COin 2019, 32% less than the 2,544 MMmt produced in 2005. This reduction in pollutants is directly related to the 27% decrease of coal’s share of US electricity generation and the 19% increase in total generation of natural gas in the same realm. It is important to support this momentum towards natural gas, being that it emits half as much carbon as coal when generating electricity. 

The previously-increasing rate of coal-to-gas switching must continue to exponentialize in order to accomplish a sustained downturn in COemissions in the long-run. Since 2016, when natural gas surpassed coal and became the primary source of electricity generation, natural gas has remained an effective, economic, environmentally-conscious avenue of power. It must remain a priority in the highest sense.

President Biden & Congress Must Maintain America’s Energy Independence

Today Morning Consult published an op-ed by GAIN strategic adviser and former Maryland Congressman Albert Wynn highlighting the importance of maintaining American energy independence. To ensure price stability, consistent low prices, and our national security goals, diversification and balance should be utmost priorities in the energy sector. 

While the Biden administration is prioritizing renewable energy and green technologies, it is critical the administration also recognize the role of traditional fuels and invest in the growth of modern oil & gas infrastructure. As Wynn points out, the United States recently became the world’s largest energy producer, passing Saudi Arabia and Russia in oil production, and became a net exporter, reducing our reliance on foreign entities. This momentum must be perpetuated for the sake of our national security. As Wynn writes, “The administration would be foolish to cater to environmental extremists who disregard the reality that the U.S. oil and gas industry supports millions of good-paying American jobs and provides tens of billions of dollars to local, state and federal governments.”

Wynn highlights the reality that the 41% spike in gas prices over this past year is ridiculous in the short-term and unendurable in the long-term. Being that oil & gas makes up 69% of America’s primary energy consumption today, it is critical that the United States continues to prioritize commonsense infrastructure policy and investment that keep America’s energy resources flowing in the most cost-effective, safe, efficient, and environmentally-conscious manner. The Dakota Access Pipeline(DAPL), which has safely moved over 570,000 barrels of North Dakota crude each day for nearly four years, is at the heart of this fight for oil & gas infrastructure. American energy cornerstones like DAPL are key to safe, affordable, and reliable energy transport for American consumers, despite continual attacks from ideological purists and unrealistic environmentalists.

Wynn concludes by calling on the administration and Congressional leadership to focus on the science and facts: “It is important to keep politics out of America’s energy policy so that Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress can prioritize a balanced investment strategy, which continues to advance infrastructure such as DAPL, maintains our energy independence and ensures affordable energy for American consumers. The Biden administration must continue to prioritize American energy independence for our COVID-19 recovery, national security, jobs and economic prosperity.”