This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Tribune, in its regular coverage of the standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access pipeline (and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), shows that many city governments, including ours, have sided with the tribe. Mostly, it appears that this support is based on the belief that, given the many past injustices against the Native Americans, one should always support them in conflicts with others, regardless of the facts, the law or the public good. If you support the tribe for this reason, then don't bother reading the rest of this op-ed, which is about the facts, the law and the public good.
The tribe attempted to block the pipeline by asking a court of law to block it. The court, in rejecting the tribe's request, issued as 58-page discussion of the law and the facts of the case. You can read that (dull, legal) discussion by Googling "standing rock court decision pdf," and clicking on the first response.
At least in the view of that court, the facts and the law are overwhelmingly contrary to the position advanced by the tribe. In summary, it shows that the pipeline company and the Corps of Engineers bent over backwards to address all the issues raised by the tribe, and that the tribe presents no evidence to support its complaint. The pipeline company followed all its legal requirements to obtain all the necessary permits to construct. The conflict between the tribe and the local law enforcement is taking place on land that is owned by the pipeline, where the pipeline has asked the government to remove trespassers. Anyone who wishes to have an informed opinion on the conflict should read the document.
The pipeline route was chosen to parallel an existing natural gas pipeline, minimizing the chance of disturbing burial sites. As the pipeline (mostly completed) dug its trench, resident archeologists examined the digging for signs of such sites; whenever a major one was found, the pipeline was rerouted around it. The pipeline crosses about 200 waterways, requiring a permit for each. The proposed crossing of the Missouri River, which the tribe opposes, is parallel to and close to an existing (natural gas) pipeline crossing it, and proposes to use the most non-invasive technology in its installation.
If we accept the tribe's argument that the pipeline should not be allowed on "Ancestral Indian Lands", then perhaps we should all examine our own land titles, since before 1492 all of the Americas were Ancestral Indian Lands.
None of the parties involved, nor the press, explain the public benefit of the pipeline, which the tribe seeks to prevent from occurring. New oil drilling technology made it possible to produce large amounts of oil from the previously unproductive Bakken Formation, mostly in North Dakota. This new field was not in an area served by oil pipelines (as it would have been if it were in Texas or California). So the new oil was and is transported to the oil refineries by long trains, made only of tank cars. The Dakota Access Pipeline, if completed, will remove about half of the total production from the Bakken Formation from the railroads, placing it in an underground pipeline.
Underground pipeline transport is much safer than rail transport. In 2013 a North Dakota oil train derailed and burned, killing 47 people in a town in Quebec. Other oil train accidents have not been as spectacular, but have made spills, causing some government to try to ban these trains from passing through their states, cities or neighborhoods. When oil begins flowing through the DAPL, the public in cities and towns along the rail lines will be demonstrably safer. The critics of massive rail trains of Bakken oil call them "bomb trains"; so far only one has gone off in a populated area.
Full Disclosure: I am a retired professor of chemical engineering. For five years before becoming a professor, I was employed by Chevron. I own modest amounts of stock (alas, not controlling interests!) in several petroleum companies. This background biases me in favor of the facts and the law, and the public safety as I understand it.
Noel de Nevers is a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the University of Utah.