6 december 2016

Protesters' win 'a wakeup call' for other pipeline projects

Jenny Mandel and Mike Lee, E&E News reporters, EnergyWire: Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe scored a temporary victory in its fight against the Dakota Access pipeline Sunday when the Obama administration said it was denying a permit.

But the win could have bigger implications for pipelines nationwide, which face an increase in sophisticated campaigns to derail infrastructure development.

Protesters from around the country have watched the demonstrations on social media and through traditional news outlets. Many of them have visited the temporary camp in North Dakota, where they picked up tactics and motivation.

Kate Baer, who is helping raise money to challenge the Diamond crude oil pipeline across Arkansas, spent five days in Standing Rock, she said in an interview.

"That really inspired me," she said.

How the game's played

Dakota Access is a 1,170-mile pipeline that would connect North Dakota's Bakken Shale oil field with refineries and other pipelines in Illinois. Its builder, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, had received most of the permits it needed from state and federal agencies when the Standing Rock protests started.

The pipeline was slated to cross under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River, about a half-mile upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe argued that it hadn't been fully consulted about the route and that construction could endanger the reservation's water supply and damage cultural sites on surrounding land that used to belong to the tribe.

The tribe sued in July, saying the Army Corps of Engineers improperly gave Energy Transfer a permit to bore the pipeline under the federally controlled lake. At the same time, thousands of protesters swarmed to a makeshift camp outside Cannon Ball, N.D., where they organized marches and other protests to block construction. The protests attracted national attention, including visits from Hollywood actors and statements of support from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The suit is still pending, but on Sunday, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy ordered the Army Corps to conduct a broader environmental impact statement on the project. The corps will consider an alternate route as part of the review (Energywire, Dec. 5).

Thomas Ahern, a partner at public affairs firm Five Corners Strategies, said he has seen an uptick in community opposition that dates back about 15 years and has accelerated in the past five or six years. The company advises developers of solar, wind, and oil and gas projects.

The Dakota Access protesters' win, however fleeting, "should be a wake-up call to those companies that are trying to permit and access new pipeline projects," Ahern said.

"That a group of activists in the Dakotas could band together nationwide and cause that kind of pressure and change, regardless of what happens four months from now with a new administration, should be worrisome to anyone who's looking to move their permitting process in 2017," Ahern said.


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