Dakota Access Pipeline And A Tale Of Two Tribes

Robert Carpenter Underground ConstructionBy Robert Carpenter Editor-in-Chief

Another line in the sand has been drawn for the energy pipeline industry. The unfortunate ripple effects from the Keystone Pipeline fiasco continue to resonate throughout the energy and environmental political block.

Initially, Native Americans from a small Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe raised concerns about the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline project. They wanted assurances that crossings of the Missouri River would not compromise their water supply and that construction would avoid disturbing sacred areas. A simple confab was justified to address those concerns. A little education and open dialogue can go a long ways towards resolving most problems.

But in the blink of an eye, circling environmental buzzards swooped down to feast on the potential carrion of another defeated pipeline project. A cadre of environmental and political obstructionists joined the fray to organize and publicize another righteous battle against the evil fossil fuel industry.

When fully connected, the 1,100-mile Dakota Access Pipeline project will be the first to carry crude directly to the U.S. Gulf Coast area for processing from the Bakken shale, a huge oil formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada that has brought economic growth and prosperity to the region.

Predictably, at press time, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and four other U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama asking him to order a comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline project that has stirred widespread opposition from Native Americans and environmental activists. That process would take several months. Odds are, the environmental activists and protesters are banking on a Hillary Clinton win and a potential political end to the project.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners which has stated its intention to complete the $3.7 billion project. It’s worth noting that the project went through an extensive state and federal government vetting process – including stringent environmental considerations and cultural mitigation– before a spade of dirt was turned.

Once the zealots got involved and guided the Standing Rock Sioux away from the path of reason, the situation deteriorated to staged press events for the evening news and web highlights. There is a never-ending stream of press releases intent on making the tribe seem like environmental martyrs.

But to the west lies the reservation of another Native American Indian tribe with a far different perspective regarding energy and pipelines. While the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of southwestern Colorado is similar in population to the Standing Rock Sioux, there the similarities end and contrasts are apparent. The Sioux have a huge reservation in terms of land while the Southern Ute’s area is much smaller. Certain leaders of the Standing Rock are craving their 13 minutes of fame while the Southern Ute are barely known.

The biggest difference between the two tribes is that the Southern Utes are a relatively wealthy tribe working with energy companies to develop their energy resources. The tribe has used the revenue to fill many essential needs and bring a plethora of benefits to its tribal members, such as health insurance and a college education for all members including a campus dotted with state-of-the-art buildings.

The Southern Utes do have a federal issue they are fighting. They recently met with members of Congress to discuss modifying old treaties and allow the tribe to assume more control over tribal natural resources without federal oversight. Such a move, they believe, would accelerate their ability and options in constructively guiding development of their vast natural resources – all for the benefit of the tribe. In short, they want to work with energy companies to drill more wells and construct gathering pipelines in a manner that preserves their culture and lifestyle. Energy production creates the tax base needed to provide crucial services for tribal members.

All this has created a difficult quandary for the Obama administration. It was quick to jump into the Dakota Access battle on the side of the Standing Rock Sioux when it became a well-publicized environmental event. The administration also prides itself on being sensitive to Native American needs. But backing the Southern Utes in their quest for full control of their resources means essentially backing development of fossil fuels – an abhorrent concept to both the president and environmentalists.

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