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