The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is sometimes described as being the most eco-friendly, safest, and effective way to transport crude oil from the domestic wells which provide it to refineries and the American consumer. This extensive project received approval from regulators in North Dakota, the Army Corps of Engineers, and officials in Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota. The resources put into this $3.8 billion project make it one of the most advanced pipelines of its type in the world today.
Despite what protestors have said in the past about DAPL, almost the entirety of the project takes place on private land which is already being used for utility easements in other ways. The pipeline does not intersect with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, even at Lake Oahe, and the idea that no one received information about this project is false. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spoke with several dozen tribes and their representatives to discuss the implications of the project several years in advance.
When reviewing the biggest pros and cons of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is imperative that we take the emotion out of the conversation to look at what the vital facts of this project are.
List of the Biggest Pros of the Dakota Access Pipeline
1. The project involves domestic oil production only.
DAPL is not like some of the other crude oil pipeline projects that have been in the works over the past few years, such as the Keystone XL. Instead of being a U.S.-Canada project that involves imports and exports (and potential tariffs), the Dakota Access Pipeline only works with domestic capacity. It takes the crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to Patoka, IL, to connect with other pipelines.
The project is managed by Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas-based organization which is constructing the 1,172 pipeline that will manage shale oil too when finished.
2. DAPL has a high capacity for crude oil transportation.
When the Dakota Access Pipeline operates at full capacity, it has the capability of carrying up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day. Because it is on private land, the structure can earn over $50 million each year in property taxes for the states, along with over $74 million in sales taxes that can go toward infrastructure improvements. Legislatures are already looking at using the funds from DAPL to provide more resources to local schools, improve roadways and bridges, or provide better supports to local emergency services.
3. The Dakota Access Pipeline creates more jobs.
The act of building the Dakota Access Pipeline created up to 12,000 new jobs that helped to stimulate the economies of the Midwest. There were indirect service jobs that saw a boost when supporting the construction efforts as well. Estimates place the economic impact of all of this work at more than $129 million per year that would not be available if the job had never started. Then there are the benefits of moving the crude oil in a manner other than railroad tanker or by road, which then reduces the load of traffic on the nation’s highways and railways to save even more money.
That means the overall impact of DAPL on the U.S. economy exceeds more than $250 million per year when all sources of income receive full consideration.
4. DAPL allows the United States to become more energy independent.
The Dakota Access Pipeline works with other similar infrastructure improvements in the energy sector to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Several of the countries which export crude oil to the United States are on questionable political terms, including Russia and Venezuela, and so relying on them for the energy needs of the country could put the government into a position of unnecessary risk. DAPL creates more energy independence because it makes it easier for oil from North Dakota to flow to the refineries where we can create gasoline and other consumer goods.
Before North Dakota began a surge in oil production in 2010, almost 70% of the crude needed for the daily energy needs of Americans came from overseas. DAPL makes it possible for the United States to begin dictating its own energy future.
5. Pipeline transportation risks fewer leaks and other forms of environmental disaster.
The U.S. Department of Transportation notes that there are fewer spillage incidents with crude oil when transporting it via pipeline when compared to the alternative methods which exist. The reduction in cost can be as high as $10 per barrel, and there are fewer greenhouse gas emissions to worry about when using this method as well. That means the process is environmentally friendly, allows Americans to access domestic crude without interference, and the overall cost of use is dramatically lower because artificial market indicators from OPEC do not control access.
DAPL takes up to 740 rail cars filled with crude oil off of American railways every day with the amount that it transports through the pipeline. That is the equivalent of another 250 trucks that would be transporting it to a refinery as well.
6. The existing pipeline under Lake Oahe has a long history of operational success.
There are existing pipelines which travel underneath Lake Oahe at a much shallower depth than what the Dakota Access Pipeline does when transporting North Dakota crude. The Northern Border Pipeline has been in place since 1982 without a significant operational incident impacting the quality of water in the region, natural animal habitats, or the health of the local tribal population. It is essential to remember that the entire DAPL project is buried underground so that it does not impact the local infrastructure upon completion.
7. DAPL does not come close to the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is over 70 miles away from the installation point of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The structure never crosses the reservation at all. It follows virtually the same path as the dual pipelines that are already present there under the ground, crossing a land area where about 1,100 feet is owned by the federal government.
“This is a key step toward the completion of this important infrastructure project, which has faced months of politically driven delays, and will allow for safe transport of North Dakota product to market,” said Governor Dough Burgum.
List of the Biggest Cons of the Dakota Access Pipeline
1. It still contributes to a massive greenhouse gas release.
DAPL might be more of an environmentally friendly way to transport crude oil for refinement, but it also contributes to a significant increase in carbon dioxide as the hydrocarbons promote its release in various ways. Once the extracted oil from North Dakota goes through processing, there would be over 100 million metric tons of CO2 released to the atmosphere each year. That is the equivalent of about 30 coal-fired power plants or more than 21 million cars.
Atmospheric ethane is another greenhouse gas issue which is unique to the Dakota Access Pipeline. A surge in this emission has direct ties to the increase in fracking activities which has been present in North Dakota since 2010. That means our contribution to one of the potentially leading causes of climate change is on the rise at a time when it may need to fall.
2. There are additional climate and environmental problems to consider.
“If we have any hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, “we should not be building new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for generations to come.” When we burn crude oil or use the hydrocarbons to create usable products, the outcome is one that involves pollution of multiple types. From the microplastics in our oceans to the higher levels of acidity in our waterways, the Dakota Access Pipeline becomes another link in a chain that could be the cause of numerous health concerns for this generation and moving into the future.
3. Detecting leaks may not be possible with the underground placement of DAPL.
Although it is true that there are existing pipelines that travel underneath Lake Oahe in the sand and clay layer which lie above the Dakota Access Pipeline, the fact that it is up to 115 feet below ground and a minimum of 95 feet underneath the waters of the lake make it a challenge to detect the presence of leaks. If something should occur that far underneath the surface, the impact on local ground water reserves and soil quality could be impossible to detect, even if there are sensors within the structure.
This disadvantage is one of the primary reasons why there is such strong opposition to the project, even with existing approvals in place for it. The fear of the unknown with DAPL is a motivational factor in how people react to it.
4. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were not consulted about the project.
Although proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline say that the project is on private property and doesn’t enter tribal land, the verbiage of the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie does bring into question whether or not there is an ownership issue to consider. Under that treaty, the land where the construction of the pipeline occurs was the unceded and sovereign territory of the Sioux Nation. That would give the Standing Rock tribe a claim to the land and the right of consultation.
Even the Army Corps of Engineers agreed that upon review of the treaty documents that additional analysis and discussion of the project should occur to find some common ground with the land claims.
5. The underground project disturbed the sacred lands of numerous tribes.
There were several lawsuits pending over DAPL because of the project disturbing the burial grounds and sacred lands of the tribes involved. Additional culturally significant areas were damaged by the work as well, which did not lead to a favorable discussion between developers, consultants, and tribal leaders.
Although there was no outright deceit claimed or accused, the fact that the tribes were seemingly unaware of where the project’s location would be after the initial discussions about DAPL could indicate a lack of forthrightness during the planning stages.
6. There is still a risk to the drinking water of the tribe and those who are downstream.
The original plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline was to route it underneath the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, which is the state capital of North Dakota. Because there were concerns about the pipeline breaking and contaminating the city’s water source, the decision was made to move it to is upstream location above tribal lands instead. If the concerns about a leak were good enough for Bismarck and to change the location of its placement, then why wasn’t it good enough for the tribal community as well?
Then there is the fact that the project was fast-tracked using Nationwide Permit #12. This usage allowed for the project to be exempt from the Clean Water Act, creating further concerns about the craftsmanship and quality of the pipeline itself.
Verdict on the Biggest Pros and Cons of the Dakota Access Pipeline
There is no doubt about the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline could provide more jobs, reduce foreign dependence, and improve local economies from North Dakota to Illinois. The number of questions that the disadvantages of this project bring up are also enough to inspire a closer look at the design, planning, and installation of the pipeline.
DAPL does follow a similar route as existing pipelines which have not encountered critical issues over their 30+ years of existence. Our construction methods are more advanced in this field than they were in the 1980s, so there should be safe transport of crude oil available with its existence.
The biggest pros and cons of the Dakota Access Pipeline will never really bring proponents or critics of the project together, but it is a useful practice to see the perspective of the other side. If we can correct the errors encountered during the planning stages of this project, then future endeavors could occur without as much difficulty.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.