A wasteful diversion of resources and attention

The Standing Rock tribe had multiple opportunities to participate in the Dakota Access Pipeline permitting process but chose not to. Protesters are just flat-out wrong to physically disrupt the process.

LONDONDERRY — I guess I understand that opposing the oil pipeline at Standing Rock is supposed to be the latest liberal cause, and I've tried to give a damn, but I just can't.

Many of my fellow liberals are going to hate what I'm about to say, but here it goes.

First, some facts.

The pipeline in question is 1,172 miles long, traveling from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa before reaching its destination in Illinois.

In the vicinity of the Standing Rock protest site, it crosses through private land before reaching a point where it will be tunneled 100 feet below a short tract managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and will then travel 100 feet below the Missouri riverbed to the other side.

Construction is nearly complete, except for the small segment that needs to be drilled under the Army Corps land and the river.

According to court filings, as the pipeline nears Standing Rock, it parallels and runs close to two existing natural gas lines and an overhead electrical distribution line - but it doesn't pass through land managed or controlled by Native Americans.

Prior construction of the gas and power lines resulted in significant disturbances where they travel through the same land the Standing Rock group now argues is too sacred to harbor an oil pipeline. New construction will not likely further damage historical artifacts.

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The tribe at Standing Rock had every opportunity to participate in a 13-month state permitting process, but according to Julia Fedorchak, chair of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, the tribe decided not to.

Likewise, the tribe declined to appropriately participate in a review by the Army Corps of Engineers, and when tribe members did communicate with the Army Corps, they seemed focused instead on issues and sites outside the Army Corps' jurisdiction.

In a Sept. 9 Memorandum Opinion rejecting a request from the Standing Rock tribe for a temporary injunction, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia went to great lengths to catalog communication failures by the Standing Rock tribe.

The court wrote that while other tribes participated in the Army Corps review and secured avoidance measures, Standing Rock did not.

“Standing Rock took a different tack,” the court wrote. “The Tribe declined to participate in the surveys because of their limited scope. Instead, it urged the Corps to redefine the area of potential effect to include the entire pipeline and asserted that it would send no experts to help identify cultural resources until this occurred.

“In a responsive email, the Corps expressed its regret that the Tribe would not participate and welcomed any knowledge or information regarding historic properties that it was still willing to provide.

“The Corps went on to explain that it did not regulate or oversee the construction of pipelines, and [its] regulatory control is limited to only a small portion of the land and waterways that the pipeline traverses.”

Nor did the Standing Rock tribe offer particularized concerns about water quality that were tied to the specifics of the project. Nor did it successfully distinguish its tribal concerns as distinct and related to the proposed construction.

The tribe could have sought alternatives such as different pipeline technology, a rerouting around sites they consider sacred, an alternate crossing point under the 2,300-mile-long Missouri River, or an over-river solution.

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From my standpoint, if you don't bother to participate when the permit conditions are established, or are unwilling to work cohesively with the regulating agency, then you have no business complaining later.

This pipeline has been fully permitted and is almost complete, and the protesters are just flat-out wrong to physically disrupt the development now, especially given that their odds of successfully altering a project at this late stage are pretty close to zero.

This permitted pipeline might not be perfect, but it's a better deployment than hundreds of already operating pipelines with many thousands of existing river crossings. It is almost certainly an improvement over rail and road transport of the North Dakota oil.

There are other early-stage energy projects in development around the country with serious flaws that need to be modified or opposed as they are being permitted, but the Standing Rock agitators are diverting attention and resources from efforts that could be effective elsewhere. They are barking up the wrong tree.

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Hey, we need oil. I hate that fact, but it is a fact.

We need oil to power our cars, buses, trucks, airplanes, snowmobiles, mopeds, and even the watercraft that tow ocean surfers into monster waves so they can be worshipped as YouTube heroes.

We need oil to heat our homes and business, and to generate electricity so entertainment companies can produce extravagant professional wrestling shows in giant arenas and then beam their productions to satellites and big screen TVs in homes all over the planet.

Oil is an essential ingredient in many of the plastics and products we rely on every single day, probably including the computer keyboard I'm typing on right now.

All that oil must be transported to refineries and then markets, and pipelines are generally thought to be safer than trucks and railroad cars.

The practical alternatives to oil are natural gas (often extracted through fracking), nuclear (which can be insanely dangerous and leaves hazardous waste that threatens humans for a million-plus years), coal (the mining of which destroys vast areas of land, and when burned is a source of nitrogen pollution and large carbon releases), and hydro (which itself forever damages rivers and vast areas of land, and destroys downriver habitat).

Biomass can be used to produce electricity, but that technology often kills trees. In mere minutes, it releases huge blooms of carbon that has been sequestered for scores of years. It also requires extensive acreage of farmland that could otherwise be used to grow needed food crops.

Wind is a sometimes option, but in many places harvesting wind devastates fragile ridge or coast lines, and like solar, it isn't currently available as a reliable base load or peaking power source.

Like it or not, oil is and will be an important component of our national energy mix for the foreseeable future as we develop efficiencies and slowly shift to alternatives.

We need to accelerate those efforts, but until our nation takes climate change seriously we will be stuck with oil as a component of energy generation for heat, electricity, and transportation.

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The bottom line is that a gaggle of agitators parading around a remote part of North Dakota does not protect the environment, nor does chaining oneself to a bulldozer or throwing rocks at militarized cops.

There are better options that can be more effective at reducing demand and moving the world to an energy mix free of oil.

I've looked at this issue carefully, and while I wholeheartedly agree with my liberal friends that police assaults on the protesters are outrageous, I see the underlying protest as a wasteful diversion of resources and attention.

And a foolish absurdity.

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