Pipeline Drama Casts Shadow Over Oil Industry

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While thousands of protesters camp in tents and tepees to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, the oil industry continues to advocate for the pipeline's construction.

Amy Sisk/Inside Energy

While thousands of protesters camp in tents and tepees to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, the oil industry continues to advocate for the pipeline's construction.

The 450 people gathered at the North Dakota Petroleum Council's annual meeting heard several speakers address the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

The 450 people gathered at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting heard several speakers address the Dakota Access Pipeline.


The Obama Administration’s decision to temporarily halt construction on part of the 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline has the oil industry on edge.

It was evident at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting, where the pipeline protests cast a shadow over an industry struggling amid low oil prices.

“[The pipeline is] very critical to being in place for any kind of recovery and growth in the Bakken production here,” said Jack Stark, president of Continental Resources, one of the largest oil producers in the state.

He told the 450 in attendance that Bakken crude needs to get to market, and the Dakota Access Pipeline will cut transportation costs. As a result, it will put North Dakota oil on a more level playing field with the rest of the country, he said.

The pipeline is supposed to carry half the state’s daily crude production to Illinois.

“We haven’t had enough pipeline capacity,” said Andy Black, president of the national Association for Oil Pipe Lines. “So that meant that crude oil couldn’t get moved to where it could be turned into products for consumers. Or it had to go on modes that cost more and weren’t quite as safe.”

Those modes include rail or truck. When they crash, they can be deadly, like the 2013 fiery oil train derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people.

The boom in shale oil and gas production in North Dakota was followed by a boom in pipeline construction here — 1,400 new miles built over the past five years, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. More oil is transported by pipeline now than rail.

Still, pipelines aren’t totally safe. Federal data shows 77 spills or other significant incidents with crude lines just last year, though zero fatalities.

That risk concerns the thousands of protesters camped on the North Dakota prairie who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

While thousands of protesters camp in tents and tepees to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, the oil industry continues to advocate for the pipeline's construction.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

While thousands of protesters camp in tents and tepees to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, the oil industry continues to advocate for the pipeline’s construction.

Like them, landowner Tom Wheeler was once skeptical of pipelines.

“I was definitely against pipelines,” he said. “I did not want my land tore up with these pipelines. But in the end you have to have pipelines in order to save the roads.”

A few years back, large trucks carried oil past his house in the Bakken. Traffic’s since died down and the potholes disappeared now that oil, gas and wastewater lines cross his property.

Now, he’s OK with projects like Dakota Access.

“It’s going to get the crude oil to the places that need it, can use it,” he said. “If we could use it all in North Dakota, it wouldn’t matter. But we can’t.”

Dee Beckler lives near the protest camps in North Dakota. She's working on an outhouse next to her home and has to had to cross through a traffic checkpoint set up amid the protest to get supplies.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Dee Beckler lives near the protest camps in North Dakota. She’s working on an outhouse next to her home. To get supplies, she’s had to cross through a traffic checkpoint set up amid the protest.

That’s the attitude shared by some North Dakota residents like Dee Beckler who live near the protest camps along the Missouri River.

“I have very good friends that are Natives, but I disagree with what’s going on right now with them,” she said.

Protesters camped a few miles south of her home worry a potential spill would contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s drinking water. The tribe has sued, trying to stop the project from crossing under the river upstream.

“We all just think it’s ridiculous that we’ve got be on pins and needles down here not knowing what is going to happen,” Beckler said.

Meanwhile, she’s trying to finish work on an outhouse next to her home.

To get supplies, she has to drive through a national guard checkpoint. North Dakota’s Guard arrived earlier this month to relieve law enforcement who were manning the zone. They say they’re there to ensure public safety.

The protesters here claimed a small victory earlier this month when the federal government announced it would block construction at the Missouri River crossing while reconsidering its permitting decisions. That move did not go over well with the oil industry here.

“That was a bad message for the U.S. economy,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Andrew Browning with the Consumer Energy Alliance says the oil industry needs to get out its message of how the pipeline benefits the country.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Andrew Browning with the Consumer Energy Alliance says the oil industry needs to get out its message of how the pipeline benefits the country.

The pipeline debate also presents another challenge for the industry: messaging. The industry’s up against well-organized environmental groups aiming to stop the development of all fossil fuels, said Andrew Browning with the national Consumer Energy Alliance.

He said it’s time for the industry to get out its side of the story.

“I think going forward they need to engage more broadly with the public on what the vision is, not just with this pipeline, but to provide a vision to counter the Keep It In The Ground movement,” he said.

Pipeline proponents launched a seven-figure ad campaign last week urging the administration to move forward with the project.

While the energy industry builds its response, the legal battle continues. A federal judge next week is scheduled to hear the tribe’s appeal for an injunction seeking a more longstanding halt to pipeline construction.

What’s Next: 

  • Have something to say about the Dakota Access Pipeline? Text PIPELINE to 701-354-4414.
  • Get up to speed on one issue at the heart of the pipeline debate: consultation.
  • Hear protesters from tribes throughout the country share their environmental challenges.
  • Teresa Roberts

    This pipeline transports fracked oil, which cause “induced earthquakes,” which is why Oklahoma just closed 37 wells. So stupid to risk during an oil glut & low gas prices. SO STUPID. HOPE INVESTORS LOSE THEIR ASSES

  • rainbowhawk

    Excellent report in support of Indigenous Peoples with a presentation of the Standing Rock Chairman before the U.N. Via MSNBC News:
    https://www.facebook.com/IndigenousPeopleOfAmerica/videos/1300245503339333/

    • C Tucson

      Indeed…. superb reporting. Just wish I would see it in the news everyday till they crush this pipeline

    • Amy Sisk

      Thanks for commenting. If you want to keep up with our pipeline coverage, you should subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter: http://www.insideenergy.org/insiders.

  • Vera Y.

    I think this is a fairly balanced article and that is really appreciated. Nevertheless, there are a number of things which have inflamed the Dakota Access pipeline situation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that an easement has not yet been granted for DA/ETP under the Missouri, yet the company was planning on transport by the end of this year? Why was there no EIS? There are also peripheral but deep concerns over the crime and social impacts of man camps in North Dakota that could bear addressing by the industry, just as locals in the vicinity of the NoDAPL camp are feeling impacted by the tension brought to bear by the resisters . I’d like to engage in a civil discussion if members of your audience would educate me, as I am open to information that could broaden perspective. Not interested in name-calling, partisan politics or mudslinging though.

    • Amy Sisk

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and welcoming the discussion, Vera. If you want to keep up with our pipeline coverage, you should subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter: http://www.insideenergy.org/insiders.

  • Margie Taulbee

    It is sweet oil..which is fracked oil. No there was never easement for the Oil Company to go under the Missouri, I hope you realize how important clean water is??? Can you look at your children and tell them..I didn’t like the traffic so you have no pure water?

    • C Tucson

      That is a great question.

    • Amy Sisk

      Thanks for your insight, Margie. If you want to keep up with our pipeline coverage, you should subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter: http://www.insideenergy.org/insiders.

  • Mac M.

    Perhaps the companies who are in such emotional distress about losing profits should begin to get with the current times and put their investments in renewable and clean energy instead of resources that are finite and dangerous to water supplies — not to mention tearing up sacred sites of Native People? The fossil thinking isn’t just in the ground, it’s in the boardrooms where people are doing and thinking in the same old ways. Your profits are down, but not because of Native protests. Oil markets are being controlled by other countries — right now. Why not direct this industry in a way that we control and we can renew with methods that don’t hurt our planet or people? Just a thought…

    • Amy Sisk

      Thanks for weighing in, Mac. If you want to keep up with our pipeline coverage, you should subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter: http://www.insideenergy.org/insiders.

  • C Tucson

    I am baffled…. If 18 million plus people rely on the Mississippi River* for drinking water …… why are we willing to kill ourselves by polluting our grounds and water? It is not a guess but a given fact that the DAPL pipe line will in time destroy* the Mississippi River and let’s not dismiss/neglect what damage the fracking* will do. I am all about making money but not at the expense of killing our people and destroying the land we need not just now but for future generations.

    Our country is self-destructing and will be committing genocide if they permit the pipeline to be built.

    I am sorry to say this but if laws are implemented, tucking and railing the oil will cause less damage and deaths in the long run.

    It’s bad enough we sold-out to Canada by handing over our electricity (TEP), not to mention our land, debts and now trying to destroying our livelihood/land to sell our oil overseas. Have we sold the soul of the USA? And for what????

    I’m impressed with our indigenous American Indians for fighting this battle that few understand due to lack of coverage. I am doing my part by spreading the news to my 100 plus daily customers.

    According to NFS (National Park Service .. U.S. Department of the Interior) https://www.nps.gov/miss/riverfacts.htm
    ” Mississippi River Overview
    The Mississippi River is one of the world’s major river systems in size, habitat diversity and biological productivity. It is the third longest river in North America, flowing 2,350 miles from its source at Lake
    Itasca through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico.”

    “Mississippi River Watershed
    The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth largest in the world, extending from the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. The watershed includes all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. The watershed measures approximately 1.2 million square miles, covering about 40% of the lower 48 states.”

    “Water Supply
    Communities up and down the river use the Mississippi to obtain freshwater and to discharge their industrial and municipal waste. We don’t have good figures on water use for the whole Mississippi River Basin, but we have some clues. A January 2000 study published by the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee states that close to 15 million people rely on the Mississippi River or its tributaries in just the upper half of the basin (from Cairo, IL to Minneapolis, MN). A frequently cited figure of 18 million people using the Mississippi River Watershed for water supply comes from a 1982 study by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Committee. The Environmental Protection Agency simply says that more than 50 cities rely on the Mississippi for daily water supply.”

    I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP …..It is scary what is going on and there is not enough coverage on this story…
    You all might know this saying but I’m changing it for now………
    THE RICH WILL GET RICHER AND MILLIONS WILL DIE if we don’t stop this now.

    * http://srl.geoscienceworld.org/
    *https://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/News/NewsSources/EarthquakeStudy/earthquake-study-17may2016.ashx?la=en
    * https://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/News/NewsSources/EarthquakeStudy/earthquake-study-17may2016.ashx?la=en
    *https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160329132238.htm
    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pipeline_accidents_in_the_United_States_in_the_21st_century
    * http://www.foreffectivegov.org/blog/map-displays-five-years-oil-pipeline-spills

    • Amy Sisk

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If you want to keep up with our pipeline coverage, you should subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter: http://www.insideenergy.org/insiders.

  • Sodone

    I was surprised to read this article, and pleased that is was not one sided as I find most are! The people are crying out for change… a historical event is occurring and the mainstream media is not reporting it. The Morton County Sheriff is inciting fear in his community and recommending the ranchers stay armed, he is closing roads and schools telling people it is for their own safety!! Meanwhile, the water protectors try to remain peaceful while there are billy clubs, armored vehicles, dogs, pepper spray and semi automatic weapons in their faces. They are being arrested for walking and driving down public roads, Media is being arrested for trespassing, because they are following the NEWS to ensure the truth is reported. I can’t help but feel completely baffled by what is unfolding in North Dakota, the hate and fear being incited by those sworn to serve and protect! I wonder what would happen if the Ranchers went and stood with the protectors.. and negotiated and assisted them by allowing them to pray on their property??? How could you possibly watch them more closely and protect yourself from what you fear??