Dakota Access Pipeline – Wise Investment or Environmental Disaster?

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


17 thoughts on “Dakota Access Pipeline – Wise Investment or Environmental Disaster?

  1. Has anyone been to either of the Dakotas? There’s nothing there but prairie, and the pipeline construction won’t even upset that if it’s routed along existing roads, like so many others. I can’t help but consider the environmental concerns as a little over stated.

    However the tribal land issue does present a bigger difficulty, as they’re effectively mini independent states. If they don’t agree to a deal that will have it on their land, then it must be re-routed. Any act against the will of the native residents, in this instance, is not ethically viable.


  2. Interesting and well written article. Had not previously thought of some of the benefits mentioned such as energy independence and the following impact this will have on the economy. The article made good arguments for both sides, considering I thought this was quite a one sided issue. A good point was raised at the end about the cost of the project and whether this money could be put to better use elsewhere, something that has been overlooked during the construction of the pipeline.


  3. The article content is informative, relevant points given from both sides. Clearly there are pros and cons to the Dakota Pipeline project, but ultimately, it is up to the government and the policy-makers to decide the best way for the wellbeing of the country as a whole.

    The decision whether to prioritise the environment or economic growth is crucial. Either way, both factors are important and hopefully the parties involved in this project would thoroughly consider the net benefits/costs and provide just actions accordingly.


  4. From what I’ve read from this article, many pros rather than cons regarding the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline. Of course, there are many environmental problems as well as Sioux Tribe native culture and rights. For the environmental issues, I do think thats a short term concerns. As long as the construction maintained to the highest safety standards, there should be no leakage or any other damage to the environment. For the tribal issues, if Sioux Tribe don’t want to agree, yes the re-routing is a must. Nevertheless, for long-term environmental and economic growth, there’s always some risks to take and obstacles to overcome. To conclude, they have to ensure that the Dakota access pipeline’s construction would give benefits more than damages.

    Thank you for such an interesting and mind-opening article.


  5. Nice post, concise argument on both sides about the pipeline. Learnt some interesting facts both for and against it. The media has highlighted the negatives with not much coverage about the positive effects of the pipeline. However, I still firmly believe there is no way the pipeline should have been constructed through the tribes land. Also the fact they did not complete the full environmental assessment could lead to further issues in the future that were skipped over during this process.


  6. I understand this is to be a two sided argument but there is no way any economic gain should be put ahead of people’s livelihood. However, America has shown time and time again that it cares little for native folk so it is no surprise that they are the ones that have to lose out in order for energy companies to raise profit margins. Sadly that is the way it has always been, money will almost always be favoured in situations like these.

    I think more emphasis could have been put on the negatives of the pipeline, as I said before, no amount of money should justify ruining the tribes way of life. The benefits are clearly stated by the post but these could have been argued better as it is my view that the consequences of this construction far outweigh any benefits.


    1. We tried to ensure that both sides were well represented within the article, although I agree that the tribes way of life should come before any economic gain. However, the media has focused mainly on the negative consequences of the pipeline so we tried to cover some potential benefits it may have, tried to see what the American government sees in it – which turns out to only be money.


  7. Quite interesting. I have know little bout this but this articles explain more. As for personal opinion, i think its better to preserve the nature than proceed with the pipeline as it would harm the environment. Yet, govs will always say its for the future and it has lots of benefits to people eg employment.

    Gov should reconsider again their act, as this could affect many aspect in future especially for the habitat, animals, historical place fur the tribe and tribal’s right.


  8. Let’s nature and it’s landscape stays in it’s state of the art as created by GOD, almighty. Nature land and Sioux native tribal culture should be preserved for it’s future generations. It’s impact, on water pollution and on the soil and air quality, wildlife, natural habitat and soil quality, farming, local agriculture in the surrounding areas and health issues to millions of people downstream is inevitably posed an immense environmental disaster. Whilst, on the positive sides, it should not be neglected in that it creates jobs opportunity for some 8,000-12,000 employments and monetary gains to related Industries and add $ 129 million in annual tax revenue for the local and state economies in the Dakota access pipeline project. Most of all, United States gaining greater energy independence rather than her dependance, America’s oil interests in the Middle East & Russia will remove extrinsic factors that influence America foreign policy. Unjust action, unnecessary wars on foreign soil, killings of many innocent lives, US foreign policy suffers from political and social impotence. A quarter of it’s national security budget is spend on securing access to oil on foreign territories, which can be saved. Long-term environmental safety in the construction & use of pipelines for transporting of oil as compared to present rail and road is similarly bearable. The £2.8 billion construction cost of the Dakota access Pipeline be put to good opportunity cost to the local community & economic states. There, should be a Win-Win situation with the Sioux native tribal, it’s allies & all related Environmental Department etc sitdown to a round table discussion with the US Government on the issue, ethically & satisfactorily to all parties to the argument & protest. Surel, there is a way, a best solution agreed by all


  9. Great article. The first that I’ve seen which accurately weighs up both sides and gives evidence. This is what the media should be doing, instead of just showing biased coverage!


  10. I like that this article mentions the importance of America’s energy independence; it’s something that’s really underestimated in terms of how much it could change the country for the better. America relies too much on other countries and should be more self-sufficient.


  11. Well rounded arguments, however I feel the subject of alternative options could have been expanded. The amount of money being invested into this project is extremely high and there are countless other much more beneficial ways to spend this money. I like how you mentioned investing this money into clean energy sources, as I believe this was an option that was highly undervalued when the financing for this project was decided. Investing the money into clean energy alternatives would solve many of the issues that this pipeline is aiming to also solve.


    1. The word limit left very little space in order for other options to be looked at in detail. We wanted to try and present a two sided argument without trying to favour either side too much. Although I do believe that the cost of the project was not looked at in detail. This massive sum of money could have been put to many better uses but these options were not explored properly as the decision was made fairly early on that this pipeline would be constructed, without careful consideration of alternative options.


  12. Very insightful piece with perspectives that I had never considered. Given the recent attacks on Syria by the US it is important to consider all the factors that cause US intervention and the global impact of America gaining energy independence could be worth the displacement of people within the US. It would be preferable if the pipeline was routed through land that have commercial value rather than cultural value.


  13. According to his federal disclosure forms, filed in May 2016, President Donald Trump held between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Energy Transfer Partners – down from $500,000 to $1 million in 2015 – and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66. This creates a conflict of interest when making presidential decisions affecting the pipeline project.


  14. Interesting piece looking into a very difficult issue. However, I feel the decision makers on the project felt it was a very simple issue without considering both sides. Although there were mass protests against the construction, these seemed to be ignored in favour of economic gain. The issue of energy independence is a good one as this is usually overlooked in these situations, and will be a very important consideration in the future. In this case I think that if energy independence really was the goal of the project, the funding should have gone to alternative energy sources – but with the new leadership in America that looked increasingly unlikely. I assume it will only be too late before the American government realises the true implications of climate change and wishes they had have done more sooner, and that could have begun with the decision to not construct the pipeline.


  15. The topic discussed in this blog is very complex, and therefore suggests much thought and deliberation must take place before a conclusion is decided upon (obviously Donald disagrees on this).
    The “8000-12000” jobs fact was said to be taken from where? A pipeline is cheaper than freight or road because less people are needed, are these jobs temporary lasting only for a few months …. I think so.
    It is mentioned that the pipeline has been rerouted a few times, did you know this was because it was originally meant to cross the river upstream of a predominantly white town. They had it rerouted after appealing to the governor, the Standing Rock Sioux have also appealed but to no avail …. See the underlying issue here (**whispers** racism). A federal judge once said when referring to the Sioux, ‘a riper and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history’, seems like this is still the case.
    I could go on for a very long time about the injustices against the Standing Rock Sioux and how the Dakota access pipeline is part of a bigger problem. But I will leave it at this, when a democratically elected government is disrespecting and endangering the very people who put them in power surely they are wrong, no matter the size of the benefits they will receive by doing so?


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