Obama Administration Should Have Stopped Dakota Access Pipeline Months Ago [Opinion]

On Sunday, the Obama administration denied the Dakota Access Pipeline an easement to drill beneath Lake Oahe on Sunday. But it may be too little too late. Dakota Access's parent company, Energy Transfer Partners has already ignored two requests by the Obama administration to stop digging while until environmental impact studies are complete, so it stands to reason that company executives will give the order to continue drilling and pay any fines the United States government may levy upon it.

Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Dakota Access's parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, disputed claims that pipelines are a threat to the environment, but he bowed to pressure from residents of Bismarck, where the pipeline was originally slated to snake through, when they raised concerns that the pipeline could contaminate their drinking water.

While MSNBC is reporting that the pipeline will cease construction, people close to the protests know better. They're preparing to fight illegal drilling by themselves, if necessary. But anti-DAPL protestors and their supporters wonder: Now that the Obama administration has officially denied the Dakota Access Pipeline and easement permit, will it also send military backup to make sure that it actually doesn't happen?

It seems as though the victory is a hollow one and that the Obama administration is simply kicking the can down the road to the Trump administration. And we all know where Trump stands on fossil fuels. But if you don't, here's a reminder.

Harold Hamm is the founder and chief executive officer of Continental Resources, which owns a large stake in the Bakken Formation. The Bakken Formation is where the shale oil for the Dakota Access Pipeline comes from. Hamm was a major part of Trump's campaign; he is the person from whom the President-elect got much of his energy policy. And Hamm also stands to gain a cabinet position in Trump's administration, which means, the Dakota Access Pipeline will likely be approved after Obama leaves office on January 20.

In other words, those who stand to profit from the Dakota Access Pipeline will be the people with the power to either approve or reject it, and there is little chance that they'll reject a pipeline they have a vested interest in seeing completed.

If President Obama does not at least send some type of military backup to help the protestors and the military veterans that are currently protecting the water protectors, then the easement denial is but an empty gesture with no teeth.

The easement denial could also simply be a diversion tactic to deflate the momentum of the water protectors. It could be nothing more than President Obama to save face after being sharply criticized by DAPL protestors for sitting on his laurels essentially doing nothing for the people risking life and limb to stop the pipeline from being installed.

Obama should have stopped the DAPL months ago.
[Image by David Goldman/AP Images]

The fact that President Obama has done so little to protect clean drinking water is astounding, especially in light of the Flint, Michigan crisis, which continues to this day. Water is the most essential resource for survival, and yet the government seems to have little interest in protecting it from potential contamination.

And protecting our environment from oil pipelines should be a top priority. According to the Center for Effective Government, more than 3,300 leaks have occurred since 2010 in which 80 people died and nearly 400 people were injured. The total cost in damages due to these leaks is more than $2.8 billion.

All of these spills leaked more than 7 million gallons of oil, some of it crude oil. High Country News created a map of all of these leaks and spills, and most of them are concentrated in Texas, which is crisscrossed with pipelines that end at the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2015, a pipeline near Santa Barbara, California, burst, spilling over 100,000 gallons of oil, which ultimately ended up in the Pacific Ocean. The resulting pollution caused by the huge leak caused untold damage to local wildlife, injuring and killing hundreds of animals and fish.

And in North Dakota itself, a pipeline was struck by lightning in 2013, releasing 865,000 gallons of oil. According to the same story in High Country News, lightning is a common cause for pipeline leaks, along with human error.

Sunoco Logistics, which already has a significant stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline, is set to buy Energy Transfer Partners outright, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This is an important detail because Sunoco has the worst record in the United States for crude oil spills. Reuters reports that the company was responsible for more than 200 leaks since 2010, more than any of its competitors. Although Sunoco claims it is addressing the problems with previous oil spills, it's almost certain that, if completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will experience a leak or spill. It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when it will happen.

The pipeline, which is being built just one-half of a mile from the Standing Rock reservation, is nearly complete except for the portion beneath Lake Oahe. The project should have been stopped by the Obama administration months ago when the Sioux tribes expressed concern that the Army Corps of Engineers had not consulted them over the proposed path. Instead, Obama took a wait-and-see approach, waiting until the last minute to deny the easement. And at this late juncture, it's unlikely that the Dakota Access Pipeline builders will heed orders to stop.

[Featured Image by Matt Rourke/AP Images]