Oil Pipeline Protests: David Versus Goliath

Whether it is Big Oil companies building pipelines or hydraulic fracturing into the earth, anyone who takes them on is facing an uphill battle, not unlike the biblical David who faced the giant Goliath, with the outcome even more uncertain.

Energy Transfer Equity, Energy Transfer Partners and CEO Kelcy Warren: Goliath

In this instance, the oil pipeline that is the object of protests by Native Americans and environmentalists happens to be the Dakota Access Pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois, where it will then be transported to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline is the $3.8 billion project of Energy Transfer Partners whose CEO is Kelcy Warren, named by Forbes as the 86th richest American with a personal fortune of $5.45 billion.

Warren also heads Energy Transfer Equity, the parent company of ETP, is a fossil fuel company that owns both Sunoco and Southern Union Gas.

Dakota Access Pipeline is not Energy Transfer Partners only pipeline project. The controversial 148-mile-long Trans-Pecos Pipeline that will serve as the conduit to export gas to Mexico goes through a unique environmental region of Texas, Big Bend. Warren and ETP used eminent domain to acquire the land needed for the pipeline, which is being built despite local opposition. Neither the unique environment of the region nor its 14,000-year history of being home to indigenous people, including Comanche and Mescalero has deterred Warren or ETP from their profit-seeking mission.

In a May 2015 interview, Warren spoke with delight that ETP had the foresight to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, an idea that came about when oil prices were still over $100/barrel. Meanwhile, the price of oil kept going down, putting many of ETP’s competitors out of business.

With the Keystone XL pipeline having been nixed by President Obama, ETP’s Dakota Access Pipeline will be the lone provider of Bakken shale oil to reach the Gulf Coast, putting the company in the cat bird’s seat. Said Warren, “I don’t think there’s ever going to be another pipeline built to the Gulf Coast out of there. . . .we’re all by ourselves.”

Native Americans, Environmentalists and Supporters: David

In contrast to the financial and political clout of Warren and ETP are those that oppose the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline – Native Americans who represent less than 2 percent of the entire U.S. population, environmentalists and supporters from various walks of life. The protesters refer to themselves as land protectors and water protectors, seeking both to preserve cultural and sacred relics and burial grounds, and to protect the clean water supply of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, which is the only source of clean water for the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

These protesters, for the most part, depend on donations to make their continued efforts possible. There is no profit to be made from their efforts, at least not profits measured in dollars and cents.

The courts have been of little use in the protesters efforts to date. Earth Justice has represented the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their efforts to get an injunction to stop any further construction of the pipeline because, the tribe asserts, the Army Corps of Engineers failed to provide due diligence in mapping out sacred and historical areas before signing permits allowing pipeline construction.

Twice now, once in September 2016 and once in October 2016, when the court has found insufficient grounds to uphold Standing Rock’s assertions, the White House administration through the Departments of the Army, Interior and Justice have stepped in, requesting ETP to voluntarily stop construction near and under Lake Oahe. Will the federal government figuratively step in as the rock in David’s slingshot that felled Goliath?

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