Dakota access pipeline: are you ready to know the truth?

On January 2017, US president Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to move forward with the Dakota North Pipeline project, a project that involves the controversial construction of a pipe crossing the lake Oahe, near a Native American reserve, jeopardizing water and land with possible contamination from spillage. This Executive Order diminished all previous efforts to modify the route even after several meetings were held among the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the heads of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

US ACE granted permission to Dakota Access, L.L.C., on July 2016 to construct a pipeline that will connect Bakken and Three Folks oil production areas in North Dakota to Pakota, Illinois. Despite the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe is located  approximately 0.5 milles upstream the northern boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe´s reservation, the tribe relies on this lake as water resource for drinking and irrigation, they also have rights for retaining water, hunting and fishing. Hence, the tribe is concern that the natural resources will be affected and has called the project the “dark snake”. 

If you were an engineer working for US Army Corps of Engineers would you have blown the whistle?


Why not whistle blowing?

 From an utilitarian point of view, this project will benefit not only a great number of citizens but also will help to secure USA´s energy demand. According to the US president, 28,000 jobs will be generated as a result of this construction, additionally, it will boost the US steel industry and the overall economy since the entire project will be constructed using US workforce and raw materials. Furthermore, this country is looking to reduce its dependence of Middle East crude oil and to avoid affections on its refineries due to feedstock shortage. Let´s remember that USA refineries cannot process other type of crude oil.

Therefore, the project completion will improve the safety since it is estimated it will transport approximately 500 ton barrels of crude oil in a 30″ diameter pipe daily, which according to Dakota Pipeline Company would represent a reduction of 500 to 740 rail cars and 250 trucks, reducing the likelihood of explosion or spillage avoiding environmental and social damage.

Finally, speaking also from a deontological point of view, the engineers did right by not whistle blowing since they never acted against the sustainability values stated in the ACE corporate code of conduct.

Why whistle blowing?

When the first permission was granted by USACE, certain critical information was withheld from the public and the experts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as other important documents such as the North Dakota Lake Crossing Spill Model Discussion, the Lake Oahe Risk Analysis Report, the DAPL Route Comparison and the Environmental Justice Considerations Memorandum. This strongly contradicts the professional code of conduct for engineers that claims that all risks should be assessed and managed and must be communicated appropriately.

Several stakeholders were involved in the discussion, even Environmental Protection Agency gave the advice to stop or modify the project if both parts, USACE and the Sioux Tribe, were not getting to any agreement. So far, USACE was treating people involved fairly and with respectfully, in agreement with the manners established in the professional code for engineers.

Even more USACE showed its openness to modify the route, but unfortunately, there was not a follow up on that option of action, many stakeholders supported the project, in particular the investors. For the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, 2.5 billion dolars of investment were already approved, for the Energy Transfer Equity 1.5 billion dollars and for the Energy Transfer Partners 3.75 billion dollars of investment were already considered too.

It is worth to mention the sold of Energy Transfer Partner shares by Trump during the same period of time, to “avoid conflict of interests”, however, it is hard to define if this sell completely released him from any profit since obviously there was already a previous business connection were the same company gave money to Trump and the Republican Party fundraising. It is an engineer obligation to avoid conflict of interest and give notice; therefore they should have blown the whistle. From a deontological perspective and considering the latter situations, engineers working at USACE should have raised their voice against the development of the project.

Also, according to the virtues for engineers morally responsible, the USACE engineers should have blown the whistle because they knew the Sioux Tribe could be affected by their decisions, open the possibility of Lake Oahe water contamination and the destruction of Sioux’s sacred burial site.

Group 50:  Xiaoqiong Zhao, Zihan Qu, Karla Vallejo Mendoza, Ana I. Sosa Nunez


15 thoughts on “Dakota access pipeline: are you ready to know the truth?

  1. From he environmental point of , the governmental actiona are not good due to the social and nature damage on the zone. Hereis when citizens must act and provide a solution that clearly the government is not creating.


  2. It seems that the indigenous population should be given priority in this situation. These populations are already disadvantaged in innumerable ways, and to me it is always more important to prevent the most vulnerable from being exploited.
    However, it makes sense to build a pipeline from an environmental standpoint, as the pipeline could be more efficient and more easily monitored for damage than a fleet of tankers. However, it would need extremely strict regulation and regular inspection. Historically, pipelines in less economically developed regions have been less safe and less clean. Intense scrutiny is needed in order to prevent accidents.
    Passing the pipeline under Lake Oahe seems to be a terrible idea, because it could pollute drinking water, and it would be hard to fix and inspect. Another route should be found for this section of the pipeline.
    As for Trump’s donors having interests in this pipeline, I think the US isn’t too strict on that sort of thing, so I doubt he’s done anything legally wrong. Realistically politicians receive lots of donations, and are not necessarily beholden to donors.


  3. Even if there is demand for energy in the USA there is no decision to make when you are talking about human life (the indigenous population that everyone knows has suffered corruption and inequality) and environmental impact. It’s a shame how one of the most advanced countries in renewable energies seems to look for the most straightforward solution for a problem that has been known for such a long time. This is just another black page in Trump’s administration


  4. It seems to me that placing a pipe in this region generates two problems, the first, a social dilemma of not respecting the territory of the natives that carry a clear disadvantage in contrast to corporations that handle great influences and sums of money and the second one, the ethical dilemma about the ecological issue in the region, how could it be ensured that drinking water of the area will not be polluted?


  5. I believe the Trump government has looked at the wrong arguments to explain why this project will benefit the USA population. By stating that US workforce and raw materials will be used the development of this proyect and by saying that there would be a reduction of oil transportation that could avoid environmental damage is not enough. A whole economic evaluation should be made in the case of the proyect being implemented and in the case where it is not implemented. Maybe by only employing USA labor with higher salaries produces an increment in the associated price of oil and consequently the price of products which use oil as an input in their production processes. Externalities and non-marketable implications have a huge impact in this type of environmental activities as well, and we should not forget that the government should not only provide welfare for current population but for next generations to come.


  6. Life and health preservation is a must in any situation and it is a moral obligation of the engineers involved in this pipeline project to warn the population about the high human cost that having some energy privileges involves, specially if this cost means health risk and even endangers life of human beings. Thrump is not known for his love for humans and this behavior confirms it but I am positive sure that citizens will rise their hand to stop this project until a solution good enough for both parties is found.


  7. As we know president Trump is just a bussines man and he thinks ” first money” it does not matter if to get much money will affect lakes, rivers and mainly, people. We shouldn’t be surprised about this order. Us government had demonstrate that people, specially if they are not white people, are not important, and talking about the environment aa well.


  8. The decision to continue with the project is intransigent and a violation of the human rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It seems that Trump prefers to help some investors instead of looking for alternatives that benefit every part involved. I think this corroborates that Trump is more suitable to play the role of an unscrupulous businessman than the president of a developed country.


  9. Trump’s executive order to proceed with the construction of the actual route of the Dakota Access Pipeline represents a clear violation of the rights of the Sioux Tribe and blatantly disregards environmental and social issues, specially in the case of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Even a single spill along the route can have catastrophic consequences on the surrounding ecosystems (not to mention material losses and jeopardising the health of people living near the spill site).

    To me, firstly, the decision to accelerate the construction of the actual route is more politically driven than anything else. The project aims to create 28,000 direct and indirect jobs during its construction and boost the US steel industry, enhancing local and overall economy of the country. Any politician to make such a project a reality will gain a huge political advantage over the rest, so of course, Trump wants to get it done ASAP. However, as can be seen around the world, most politicians only consider improvements that can be seen in a short-term time frame. So, is this economic boost going to be sustainable through time and is it worth compromising environmental standards just to accelerate momentary economic growth?

    Secondly, from an environmental and ecological point of view, an oil pipeline represents a lot of challenges. Its route has to be designed in a way which creates the least negative impact on surrounding environment and ecosystems. This is done through an extensive environmental impact study of the terrain, flora and fauna surrounding the 1,886-km long pipeline. If this study is not based on proper standards for environmental impact mitigation, one cannot know what could really be at stake if a spill should happen along the route or what the immediate and long-term consequences the presence of the pipeline will bring. So why jeopardise the quality of the water of lake Oahe and the ecosystems it supports by approving a design that clearly does not represent the best option? Why not continue with the initiative to change the route of the pipeline to minimise environmental impact and do a proper environmentally friendly design? This is not an impossible task.

    Lastly, from a social point of view, the Sioux tribe is already confined to a small reserve and has the right to live in a clean environment, as well as to have a clean water source. Why insist on a route that clearly does not have their or the Standing Rock Sioux reservation’s best interests in mind?

    So yes, investment in national infrastructure is a must if a country wants to grow, but it cannot be at the expense of its people and environment. Professionals working on that project, be that engineers, ecologists, politicians, etc., have the responsibility to create a socially responsible design that is environmentally neutral or at least has a low impact on its surroundings. It is also the citizens responsibility to act and remind authorities to do the right thing when everyone’s wellbeing is not being considered or protected.


  10. Very well written article. I believe in this case the dilemma of the greater good against the rights of the natives is evident. Donald Trump however always puts money first and in this case he will jump on the greater good bandwagon to support his claims and make more money.


  11. The article was really interesting, I like how you present both sides of the argument for whistle-blowing. It is always worrying when conflicts of interests crop up and from what you’ve written it seems like Donald Trump will still have unacceptable personal gain in carrying forward the project. In an ideal world the decision about any project, where even a hint of conflict of interest occurs, should be passed on to a neutral decision-making body so that a truly unbiased decision can be reached. To me these circumstances to not seem to fulfil these criteria and, therefore, any decision made should be made public and given to a neutral body for review to provide accountability and transparency.


  12. Pipelines are a plractical tool to transport fuel from one place to another, decreasing transport emissions and time. But it is important to be aware that this does not come without any consequences, the process of building the pipelines affect the environment, but the serious consequence can be that if once the pipelines is constructed it do not get preventive maintenane, a leakage would afect directly the population and cause irreversible damages.
    Therefore, if it is possible to construct the pipeline away from a water reservoir, and away from the native american people reservoir, this would be the best option to preserve the rights of the people that lives there, and the natural resources they live with.
    Hence, the best option would be to speak up and plan the pipeline with another route that would have less consequences, if a leakage happens.


  13. I think that’s a good observation, realistically the argument for the pipeline construction is strong. Although I am thoroughly in favour of a de-carbonised energy system the global dependance on oil, particularly in the USA is for the moment an unavoidable truth. Though the contsruction of pipleine in an area with less potential ecological damage would be far better. The possible pollution from spillage to ground water and habitat loss would have serious ecological ramifications. One must also consisder the economic problems of spillage contaminating crops in the area as well as the social tensions between “U.S society” and the indigenous populations.
    It was interesting how the vested interests of the Republican party in oil and gas were noted


  14. It is very sad that money can be used as an excuse to move forward with the pipeline while setting aside all of the long term damage.


  15. The article is very interesting, showing both sides of the argument that I have not thought about before. The potential benefits of the project puts up a good case for short term investments but at the same time, I agree with the article in that the engineers with probably the most knowledge in their field, should have held up the process and proposed other less invasive options which may have better long term benefits.


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