Editor’s note: The following is a guest article by Mark Trahant, originally published at TrahantReports.com. Mark is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota, a former Sightline board member, an independent journalist, and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. He has been closely following events around the Dakota Access Pipeline for months. Find him on Twitter at @TrahantReports.
The Trump administration has been in office for less than a month, and already construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is again proceeding. Company officials say oil will be flowing by June.
Yes, there is a flurry of activity around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that has cost more than $3.8 billion and that aims to transfer oil from North Dakota to markets in Illinois and beyond.
But every action to build the pipeline is met with many more reactions to stop it. The fight about this pipeline—and the broader issues it represents—is far from over.
Of course, some days it does not seem that way. The US Army Corps of Engineers approved the final easement for the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River and complete the project. The Corps also withdrew its ongoing environmental review, citing President Trump’s executive memorandum. But that begs a huge question for the courts: Can a president do that? Is an order from the president (along with previous environmental findings from the Corps) enough to satisfy the law? That question will be sorted out by the courts.
And there are many other challenges to the pipeline. A press release from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said if the construction is successful, “the tribe will seek to shut the pipeline operations down.” The tribe has also called for a march next month in the nation’s capital.
“Our fight is no longer at the North Dakota site itself,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault II. “Our fight is with Congress and the Trump administration. Meet us in Washington on March 10.”
In addition, there remain water protectors near the construction site itself, as well as a massive cleanup of where people were camping in flood-prone areas.
What’s clear about the “what’s next?” question is that the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is taking a very different form. It’s also getting a new start because there will be many more actions as the administration and oil-related corporations move to restart the Keystone XL pipeline, or in Canada, the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
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President Trump lives in a world where none of this is a big deal. “I don’t even think it was controversial,” he said. “I haven’t had one call.” Of course, the White House wasn’t actually taking calls on the issue. So the Center for Investigative Reporting and Reveal News created a new phone number to solicit voice mails from the public about what they would tell the president (it’s 510-545-2640).
Another challenge is financial. Many individuals, tribes, cities, and companies are pulling their money from the banks that finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. But that’s really just the beginning of the actions ahead. Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples Worldwide, points out to investors how much capital is lost by companies that operate without consent from the community involved, a cost she has pegged at somewhere between $20 million to $30 million per week when there are operational disruptions. “The time it takes to bring oil and gas projects on-line has doubled over the course of the past decade due to community opposition, creating significant financial loss,” Adamson writes. More investors are learning about that financial risk, and even more still need to understand what’s at stake.
“The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is wreaking financial havoc on the companies and banks involved,” Adamson writes. She continues:
In August 2016, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) reported ‘it could lose $1.4 billion in a year if delays continue…. Even a temporary delay would mean losses of over $430 million.’ ETP is attempting to raise new debt. This could mean that the banks are ramping up pressure on the company to repay its loans out of concern DAPL will never be finished. In November 2016, Energy Transfer Partners announced a merger with sister company Sunoco Logistics in order to raise much needed cash to finish construction. ETP’s own shareholders are filing a lawsuit to block the merger, alleging conflicts of interest.
Like I said: The financial challenges are just beginning.
I also have a big idea I want to toss out, one that could have significant financial implications. So we know the project will take some 30 days to complete and fewer than four weeks to actually transfer oil from North Dakota to the end of the pipeline.
What if on that day, the day the oil reaches markets, there is a Day Without Oil. One day. It takes a massive organizational effort. But why not? What if every ally of Standing Rock, every community that has its own Standing Rock, every one who is concerned about water, takes a day off from oil? Either walk everywhere that day or just stay home. Do what it takes to remind the companies—and the government itself—who’s really in charge of the economy.