North Dakota defends DAPL, Standing Rock fears for its water

By: and - December 14, 2023 6:45 pm
Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrate Nov. 1, 2023, ahead of a public hearing in Bismarck, North Dakota, on the draft environmental impact statement. (Kyle Martin/For the North Dakota Monitor)

Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrate Nov. 1, 2023, ahead of a public hearing in Bismarck, North Dakota, on the draft environmental impact statement. (Kyle Martin/For the North Dakota Monitor)

North Dakota officials filed more than 200 pages arguing to keep the Dakota Access Pipeline operating just as a public comment period for the controversial project closed Wednesday.

The state argues in comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that shutting down the pipeline would cause “irreparable harm” to North Dakota, including a loss of oil revenue and a shift of oil transportation to rail.

The approximate route of the Dakota Access Pipeline and related infrastructure. (https://daplpipelinefacts.com/about.html)
The approximate route of the Dakota Access Pipeline and related infrastructure. (https://daplpipelinefacts.com/about.html)

“These submitted comments reaffirm that the safest, most efficient and most environmentally friendly means of transporting all liquids is by pipeline – especially when that pipeline is already in place and has been operating safely for over six years,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement.

Leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, meanwhile, have pointed to the potential harm a pipeline breach would have on the tribe’s water supply.

“Our tribe is not saying we’re against oil. We are not,” Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire told the North Dakota Monitor last month. “What we are saying is, ‘can you not put it in our water?’ That’s all we want is to protect the water.”

The pipeline has been operating since June 2017, carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield to Illinois on a route that passes through South Dakota. In 2020, a judge revoked the easement for the pipeline crossing under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock reservation, requiring additional study but allowing the pipeline to continue operating.

The Missouri River is the water supply for Standing Rock Reservation and Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Corps options 

The Corps is now studying five alternatives: One would allow the pipeline to continue operating, while another would add additional conditions. Two options involve shutting down the pipeline, either leaving the pipe in the ground or removing it. A fifth option involves looking at a route north of Bismarck; however, the Corps has no authority over routing of pipelines. A reroute would require additional permitting and review.

The Corps held two days of meetings in Bismarck in November, which included taking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement as well as tribal consultation sessions that were not open to the public. 

Alkire and Cheyenne River Chairman Ryman LeBeau of the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota participated in the tribal comment session. In interviews afterward, both said the pipeline is operating illegally without an easement and should be shut down.

Alkire said tribal chairs are tasked with protecting future generations of tribal members.

“When we are in these positions, we have to plan for the seven generations. That’s what our ancestors always told us. That means seven generations ahead of you,” Alkire said.

The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota state line, became a flashpoint of environmental protests during pipeline construction.

Environmental groups continue to criticize the project. The Dakota Resource Council called the oil spill response plan inadequate and argues the pipeline should be shut down.

An activist fights the wind while walking along Flag Road in Oceti Sakowin Camp as blizzard conditions grip the area around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 6, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country had been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
An activist fights the wind while walking along Flag Road in Oceti Sakowin Camp as blizzard conditions grip the area around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 6, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country had been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

North Dakota arguments

In its filing, North Dakota says shutting down Dakota Access, commonly referred to as DAPL, would cost the state $1.2 billion in the first year and $116 million annually thereafter.

At risk is an estimated:

  • $375 million annually in direct oil tax revenue
  • $23 million in interest costs to the Bank of North Dakota
  • $30 million annually in Trust Lands revenue$102 million in losses annually to the Legacy Fund
  • $3 million losses in profits by the State Mill.

The losses by the State Mill, which processes wheat and other grains into flour, would result from increased costs for shipping because of more competition with the oil industry on rail lines.

Such competition would likely have a negative ripple effect across agriculture in the Midwest.

study by Elaine Kub, an agricultural economist from South Dakota, is part of the state of North Dakota’s filing.

Because of increased freight competition, she projects annual losses of more than $3 billion for the ag industry.

The state also submitted a 2021 declaration from Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in which he said shutting down DAPL would cause the tribe financial and environmental harm.

Environmental justice dilemma

About 60 pages of the state of North Dakota’s comments are a study from the University of Chicago that weighs the pros and cons of blocking the pipeline. The study, first written in 2017 and updated in October, concludes that about 81% of the oil flowing from North Dakota through the pipeline would still reach its intended market by rail. But shutting down the pipeline would have a negative effect on those living along those rails.

“Blocking DAPL presents an environmental justice dilemma, since the policy reduces global climate damages while imposing local pollution damages onto communities near railroad corridors,” the study said in its conclusion.

A final environmental impact statement is expected sometime next year.

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Jeff Beach
Jeff Beach

North Dakota Monitor Deputy Editor Jeff Beach is based in the Fargo area. His interests include agriculture, renewable energy and rural issues.

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Amy Dalrymple
Amy Dalrymple

Amy Dalrymple is editor-in-chief of North Dakota’s States Newsroom outlet, North Dakota Monitor. She previously was editor of The Bismarck Tribune and a newspaper journalist in Williston and Fargo.

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