The Formidable Fate of the Dakota Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline project could be considered an ethical dilemma; whereby the proponents claim the project would entail energy independence. The opposition, on the other hand claim that it effectively threatens the environment and the lifestyle of the local tribes at Standing Rock residing within the vicinity of the proposed pipeline, where they feel that their legacy could be at stake fearing from oil spills at the only source of clean drinking water.

The 1,134-mile-long, $3.8 billion USD pipeline potentially running from Bakken at North Dakota carrying the oil up until Patoka, Illinois that essentially is aimed at providing an efficient way of transporting crude oil has been criticised to cause severe environmental damage and has garnered much attention as a result of the opposition uprising. While people have expressed opinions, but things aren’t necessarily straightforward. We shall delve into the argument to get to grips with the issue at hand.


Benefits induced by the proposed pipeline.

The construction would in essence help the US become “energy independent”, by minimising the oil imports, thereby improving the economy. The oil imports (from Middle East, Russia, etc.) amounts to nearly two-thirds of the annual US trade deficit, and the increase in oil production at Bakken could potentially eradicate cash outflow thereby proving to be self-sufficient. It will also generate about $ 120 million annually in property and income taxes for the states along the route.

The construction of the pipeline quintessentially would help bolster job prospects, providing opportunities to local communities, as well as contractors, pipe manufacturers and service companies.

 Furthermore, owing to the fact that the pipeline surpassed 70% completion, as of date, terminating the DAPL could subdue the investments rendering financial and human resources expended toward the progress of the project, in vain.

The potential of extruding oil from Bakken is estimated to an enormous 7.4bn barrels with over 470,000 barrels produced per day, according to the US geological survey. Since this port is located further North of the Patoka oil hub, and the transportation of oil by means of road, rail and sea transport is quite inefficient and unsafe, a novel yet efficient method of transportation was suggested in the form of the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to Energy Information Association(EIA) the transport of crude oil by means of rail is roughly 418,000 barrels per day, the capacity of which is significantly lower than that of the proposed pipeline.

Safety, being one of the prime drivers gained the infrastructure of the pipeline further support financially. Fraser Institute(Canada) suggests the locomotion of oil via pipelines is statistically 4.5 times safer when compared to moving an equivalent amount via other modes of transport, thereby reducing the overall carbon footprint and costs.

 While oil spills are a major concern for the indigenous communities living in the vicinity who feel threatened , quantitative risk analysis conducted helps appreciate the risks associated thereby suggesting risk mitigation strategies. This includes Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan, to name a few aimed to eliminate environmental and cultural resource impacts. Moreover, the Congressional Research Service in the United States claims that the risk of spillage and environmental impacts through more densely populated areas are more drastic when transported through rail. The famous case of the crude oil train derailment, that decimated a Canadian town could be seen as a significant risk

 Wouldn’t the prospect of being able to provide energy independence and economic prosperity by means of the pipeline, be considered essential toward American progress? If the risk of spillage and accidents can be minimised through the construction of a pipeline. Would that not be considered more ethical, in effect?

More harm than good?


The source and supply of water to those at the Standing Rock Sioux and millions living downstream could be jeopardized as a result of the project going forward. Despite the fact that risk mitigation strategies have been undertaken, one cannot be certain about the discrepancies that might occur as a result of the project going forth. For example, the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the most controversial matters at the time, whereby BP officials at the time of the construction made claims of operating in a risk free environment, but we all know how that went down.

The pipeline, initially scheduled to voyage under Missouri river, was diverted to south of the city that stands upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation due to concerns raised by the majority. Apart from risk of contamination, the protests raised concerns pertaining to the safety of the pipeline when the construction was expedited through use of Nationwide Permit No. 12, which exempted it from carrying out environmental analysis at an early stage.  

Additionally, the pipeline was aimed at being constructed on a land considered sacred by the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) tribe, which was designated to them under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Therefore, it was unethical to have gained access to the construction on-site as the tribe should have been consulted on the matter way before the idea was materialised.

Although, the environmental implications due to the construction of the pipeline being critical, is not limited to the pollutants or contamination that could terrorise the lake. But, by the authorisation of the construction of the DAPL the option to go for environmentally friendly, alternative technologies will be surpassed by choosing to increase dependence on fossil fuels, harming the environment by increasing fossil fuel emissions. This is a problem that does not seem to concern the current Government of the United States, since the President Trump’s position has always been against the implementation of green alternatives forms energy.

 It is estimated that the amount of Green House Gases emissions released to the environment by laying the pipeline is comparable to the operation of 30 coal power plants, which can be considered as a step backward in the efforts to prevent the climate change. By being supportive of the construction of the pipeline, would in essence do more harm than good by causing consequential environmental harm.

 The demonstrations held at parts of the Reservation garnered media attention owing to its violent nature. The Indians have a long history of troubled pasts where they’ve essentially been oppressed countless number of times making them purely altruistic at the hands of American Politicians. This principally follows the consequentialist theory of producing the greatest good, no matter the cost.  The tribes are rightfully standing their ground as they have a right to protect their culture and traditions, especially since it is being endangered for something materialistic at the hands of capitalists like Energy Transfer Partners and the US Army Corps of Engineers, to venture on profits reaped at cost of lives being endangered.

 This raises questions such as, who or what gives the government the authority to act without dialogue or consensus? Is this what a 21st century democratic superpower stands for…?

Group 78: Taqee Nawaz Syed, Gilberto Andres Lemus Caballero, Angel Gomez Escobar, Arvinth Roy


45 thoughts on “The Formidable Fate of the Dakota Pipeline

  1. Although one of the biggest arguments favouring extractive activities has, historically, been the alleged prompting of local economies by means of the generation of new jobs, discussions regarding the validity and veracity of such argument are sorely needed nowadays, specially when, statistically, highly technified activities are proven not to employ labour force to the same extent other industries do. Furthermore, the fact that the DAPL is almost completed (70%), means that employment may not last that long after all; what will happen afterwards?? Will the presumed prosperity amend the risks and make up for the disruption of the alleged sacred territory?? Are the stakeholders considering such scenarios, which is part of their ethical responsibility??


    1. Hey Leonardo,

      Appreciate your thoughts in regards to this. Your questions stand veraciously sound. These are definitely the kind of concerns that the stakeholders putting forth the proposition for the pipeline, should take in due consideration. You’re right in thinking that the employment opportunities that would open up would perhaps be temporary. Not to forget, that some opportunities would be permanent (maintenance jobs, for instance).

      Given, the current situation whereby the Trump administration has already ordered the completion of the pipeline. It, although tricky, is necessary for sound decisions to be made where the natives, for instance are least impacted by it.


  2. It’s a serious issue here. All the factors are important whether it be oil transport, concerns from citizens or climate change. Why don’t they find an alternate route through the desert or around the area miles away with a bigger capital.It’s lil complicated I agree.
    But BP oil spill was due to another reason. Stingy enough not to carry out few tests before drilling in order to fill their pockets ended up in disaster.


    1. Hey Rayyan!

      Value your thoughts concerning the issue at bay.
      I think it would be safe to assume that they thought this would inevitably be the best way around getting to transport oil from Bakken wells, just above the North of Dakota to the refineries at Illinois.
      While some of their judgements were based off on bolstering profits in the very beginning, whereby they overlooked the welfare of the people that would be affected by it. It is claimed that they did not hold council with the Sioux tribes either.


  3. Well written.

    I would recommend going ahead and completing the pipeline for the purpose it serves. Transferring explosive materials like oils via trains or heavy duty trucks is much more risky than that in in a pipeline. Also now that about 70% of the project is complete, it would be insensible to leave it incomplete since the contractors will not be interested in cleaning up the mess they have created while constructing as a result of its cancellation. It would be a pile of losses no body would want to take up.

    Although the there are disputes on the clean water source for the native Americans in North Dakota, since the project has proceeded unethically by ignoring the interests of the residents; it becomes the responsibility of the government to supply them with an alternate clean water source. However, the pipeline is in the benefit of the country and would reduce its dependence on the Gulf areas for oil supply which will also be a relaxing situation for the middle east as allegedly USA had created a lot of havoc for oil.


  4. This is well written. My view on it would be to go ahead and complete the pipeline as being 70% through and halting progress would be an incredible waste of resources.

    The issues of pollution and the concerns of the Native Americans is real, the government should step in and alleviate these concerns if they want to see the pipeline completed without further issue.


    1. Hey Mohammad,

      Value your thoughts and comments.
      I agree that the completion of the pipeline should ensure leakage proof pipelines that doesn’t essentially contaminate their source of drinking water and must alleviate by addressing the other concerns that they may have.


  5. Exemplary article!
    In my opinion,this project wont ever be successful unless and until they find alternatives so as to end the plight of the native americans as well as the other strong opposers be it people who have concerns regarding climate change or enivironmental degredation.On one hand , I do agree that successful completion of this project would in lieu help improve the US economy as clearly mentioned by you.However,opporrunity costs do persist.
    Therefore, I truely believe that government should come in dialouge with the citizens in order to maintaun peace which will further help in the completion if this project
    As of now with no significant dialouge between the various stakeholders ,i stand against the building of the pipeline as in the end it comes down to the people and people in turn run the government.


    1. Hey zuhar!

      Thank you for your valued insight. As much as people like me and you would not want the pipeline to go on forth at the cost of tribal beliefs, the government has as a matter of fact passed it’s ruling in this regard. It’s only a matter of time. We can only as much as hope that the government takes appropriate measures ensuring minimum damage

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very insightful.
    However, I’ll have to disagree. The pipeline will not only affect the indigenous people and their way of life but also lead to environment degradation and climate change.


    1. Hey Taqee ,

      It seems like the benefits can outweigh the costs . The risks can definitely be minimized by compensating the tribes and spending sufficient funds on safety measures .
      Well balanced article though . Seems to have a good amount of evaluation of pros and cons


  7. Very insightful.
    Looking at the issues faced in the construction of the Dabota pipeline is quite mind-boggling and you have highlighted both sides of the story, ingenuously. Given the immense economic opportunities arising out of the construction of this pipeline and the consequential energy independence, the government should have been sensitive enough to understand the concerns of the locals and come up with a more inclusive strategy.
    With 70% of the construction already been completed I strongly support the view that the pipeline construction should be completed with due assurance given to tribals that the benefit arising out of this construction firstly is for the society in entirety of which they are a very much part of and secondly, that the locals be given regular updates regarding the construction and maintenance of the pipeline and other risk mitigating measures.


    1. I very much agree with the fact that they need to adapt and adhere to proper risk mitigation strategies to develop a sustainable pipeline that would benefit both the parties involved incurring minimum or absolutely zero damage.


  8. This was a good summary of the whole issue, but my point of view is that in today’s ever expanding world circumstances are such that economic reasons will always overweight the environmental issues.
    So I don’t see the construction shopping. However, the government should be pushed to either relocate the Sioux tribe or compensate them for the potential changes in their lands.


    1. Hey Rizwan,

      Appreciate your thoughts. You’re absolutely right in pointing out that the economic gains almost, always outweighs the environmental issues, which is cruel. But, that is how majority of the world operates.


  9. Well written article. I have been following the events happening at the standing rock from various other sources but your article highlights the main key issues and scenes. Good write mate.


  10. I think communities around the globe are striving to progress in multiple fields and they have succeeded at it but only to the detriment of the environment. Perhaps the US could look at Japan at how they’ve integrated progress with technology that essentially causes minimal damage to the environment. Regarding the issue of the pipeline, I think the will of the people should never be superseded in lieu of economic progress. The authorities may look at technological advancements to see if they can secure the pipeline to the level where it is absolutely clear it won’t cause any problems going forward. But if they don’t find an alternative, I think you should say goodbye to your investments because people’s opinion is supreme in a democracy. Just because Indians have been oppressed ever since European Migration to Americas doesn’t mean you’ll continue to suppress them. US being the beacon of a liberal and free world would perhaps serve the its purpose by building a consensus with the local communities and alleviate their fears.


    1. Value your thoughts.

      You’re unambiguously right in stating that the oppression of the Indigenous tribes would in essence stain USA’s reputation of being a beacon of a liberal world.
      The USA by setting foot into the construction of the DAPL, essentially traded the welfare and beliefs of the tribes at the expense of economic benefits, where the US clearly adopts a Utilitarian perspective. The DAPL pipeline can be clearly seen as a classic case of everything that is wrong with people(and/or governments) with a mindset like that.


  11. An insightful read!
    As much as the project is about environmental issues, I believe, the project will be completed as economic reasons are bound to outweigh environmental ones almost always, specially with the current US government’s views on environmental issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Appreciate your comments.

      It’s all a question of whether it is ethical to do something so absolute at the expense of one’s beliefs and ideals?


  12. Interesting read. Gotta say, very well written.
    I believe the Dakota pipeline will only fuel climate change. And creating such harmful pipelines is not the answer. Oil pipelines will just lock us in to burning fossil fuels for a lifetime.
    Taking everything in to account, the cons definitely outweigh the pros.


    1. Although at present stage fossil fuels still have considerable economical values, they do not have a bright future. Technologies breakthrough on energy sustainability should deserve more attentions, for example technology of power to liquid can be an ideal substitute of fossil fuels. Government should balance the influence and interest of installing pipes. In a long term, this is not advantageous to environment.


  13. This is a great write-up, very informative! I believe effective communication between the government and the locals is crucial to proceed, while ensuring their safety.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I appreciate the authors for being immensely articulate and well researched in their discourse.
    Being from an economics background, if I may, I’d like to put forth another major consideration if we look at the issue from a global economic lens. With US aspiring to become energy independent and perpetuating uncontrolled production of oil in the Middle-East, particularly Saudi Arabia, recessionary tendencies are already setting in with a continual fall in the crude market. Against this, there is a question on the tenacity of the US in trying to sabotage global gains from trade with projects like the Dakota Pipeline with the aim to attain major foothold in oil production, consumption and trade. In today’s globalised world, it would be myopic to think that this would lead to economic prosperity of its own polity at the heels of the rest of the world bearing the depressionary consequences of an unbalanced and inflexible oil producing regime.


  15. Nothing should ever be forced onto anyone especially against their ideals, beliefs, culture and tradition especially when they have the freedom and right to do so. Irrespective of that, since the current government has made a strong stance in making itself energy self sufficient and reducing the trade deficit, the pipeline will most certainly go through unless better, quicker and cheaper alternatives are not found immediately.


  16. Protests, blockage are always expected when there is a mega project, be it construction of man made islands in Gulf countries or nuclear power plant construction in Developing nations
    Coming to topic, people of America never made serious issues on construction of famous Route 66 connecting multiple states. Or the railroad network which started in 1800s, which connected the whole of states before cars and jets,

    Their concern is water
    Government can introduce subsidy on bottled water in that region, or even provide 100% subsidy for a limited time
    Trump administration is working on creating Jobs in America for Americans, then why such blockage when the commission already promised jobs. I’m sure when Trump has budget to construct US-Mexico wall then tackling water alternatives is an issue

    There is no project that can be abandoned at 70% completion. IMHO people and media are making this a big issue.


  17. A very well-written and insightful article! My view on this issue would be to further proceed with the project as the construction of the pipelines helps to ensure the energy security of the US as well as to create more local job vacancies. However, the concerns of the native tribes must not be disregarded.


  18. Very insightful report that combats both ends of the conversation.
    My view on this issue would be against it. There are very few natural resources available especially fresh water. Once polluted the homeostasis of the water body is altered. After the oil spill we saw mutation of various sea creatures. Even treatment of polluted water means adding more chemicals. The sustainable development that the government speak of is not there. The jobs provided during the project and later would cut down drastically. And to displace the natives from their homeland would put them into psychological trauma. It is time the government foresees the use of oil for energy and use solar or other non-degradable forms. Well done !


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