Recently Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, expediting an environmental review. The pipeline has been at the centre of international controversy regarding the impact it will have on the environment and strong tribal opposition. The question remains, should we focus our resources towards short-term economic gain or long term renewable energy strategies?
For the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline
America is currently the world’s largest importer of oil and with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline the United States can gain greater energy independence. As a result America’s oil interests in the Middle East and Russia will inevitably wane. Oil has historically been seen as a contributor to US foreign policy, and energy independence will remove extrinsic factors that influence foreign policy. At present US foreign policy suffers from political and social impotence, which in turn contributes towards unjust action on foreign soil. Energy independence also provides the opportunity to bolster national security. The US spends around a quarter of its national security budget on securing access to oil on foreign territory. The importance of self-determination when deciding foreign policy cannot be underestimated. In the 2013 State of Union speech president Obama said, “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.” The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline can be a significant step in securing America’s energy independence.
It is estimated that the construction will add $129 million in annual tax revenue for the local and state economies during construction. If this extra income is effectively distributed it can have a significant positive impact on the local community. The construction of the Dakota access pipeline is expected to create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs and inject money into industries that manufacture steel pipes and other related construction materials. Studies have shown a link between mental health issues and unemployment, raising the concern of whether the welfare of the population is more important than theoretical environmental concerns relating to the pipeline?
The Dakota Access Pipeline will ensure oil is transported to major refining markets in a safer, more economical and environmentally friendly way. A review of the US Department of Transportation statistics produced by the Manhattan Institute showed that pipelines resulted in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries when compared to rail and road transportation. Pipelines reduce transportation costs by $5 to $10 per barrel of oil, and also have lower carbon footprints than freight trains. Is it more important to focus on the environmental impact from construction in the short term, or to reduce the carbon footprint of oil transport?
Economic impact and safety are key determinants to be factored in for large construction projects. This pipeline will be a remunerative project whilst being maintained to the highest safety standards. Ultimately this is a debate between long-term environmental and economic growth over short-term environmental concerns.
Against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline
According to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the land that the pipeline is to be constructed on belongs to the Sioux Nation. The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will result in the destruction a sacred burial ground, a site of historical and cultural importance to the tribe. However, the authorities responsible for the negotiation have violated the tribal nation rights, by proceeding with the construction proposal without correct prior consultation. This has initiated massive protest from the tribe and allies as the issue regarding tribal lands and rights has been taken for granted by the government for an exceptionally long time. The importance of preserving native culture should not be understated.
Based on the construction plan, the pipeline will be built across the Missouri River, which is located near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation. The river is used for drinking, cooking and irrigation. Pipeline spills could affect the health of people and local agriculture, impacting not only the tribe but also millions of people downstream. Another environmental concern is that the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did not conduct a full Environmental Impact (EIS) assessment that was required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Is such a risk necessary in order to achieve energy independence?
Besides water contamination, protesters are against the Dakota Access Pipeline because it could impact air quality, wildlife and farming in surrounding areas. Due to this project, many species could be endangered, as there will be disturbance in their natural habitat during the construction process. The pipeline will also cause disturbance of the land, for example farmers are concerned about soil erosion and soil quality. The Iowa field contains drain tiles, a type of drainage system that is used to remove any excess water from the soil. These drainage systems can be damaged due to construction, which could affect local farmers. Is the potential for economic growth worth irreversible damage on the surrounding environment?
Although pipelines are the safest and most economical way to transport crude oil, they are also prone to damage and this could prove to be disruptive to the many people living in surrounding areas. Alternative actions must be considered in order to achieve energy independence as well as preserving the environment. The pipeline has already been re-routed multiple times, without successfully finding a solution. Due to the project having a construction cost of £2.8 billion, could this money be put to better use funding clean energy substitutes to aid America’s goal of energy independence? Current freight railroads have successfully transported oil in the region; therefore it is unnecessary to proceed with construction of the pipeline.
In conclusion the ethical issues surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline have been explored, and it comes down to an argument between economical advancements for the United States and environmental and tribal concerns. Whatever the outcome, there will certainly be more disputes pitting economic development against environmental issues in the future.
Group 31: Nerushan Sivathasan, Jamil Latif,Siti Amirah Mohd Nasir, Nurfarah Shamsul Imran