One of the biggest environmental issues that has been actively discussed by the public and the media throughout this year is the Dakota Access Pipeline project, an underground pipeline for transportation of crude oil. The controversy around the project began in 2014 when the details about the DAPL became public. The pipeline’s estimated cost is considered to be around $3.7 billion dollars. Its main aim is to carry 450,000 barrels per day; the pipe’s route will begin in Stanley, North Dakota and end in Patoka, Illinois. Although the project is expected to bring millions of dollars to the local governments and communities, as well to create permanent and temporary positions on constructions sites, it has been marked as controversial because it can present a serious danger to the environment and cultural heritage of the Meskwaki Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
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The pipeline that will be constructed by Dakota Access, LLC is to be approx. 1,150-mile-long. The pipeline’s route will begin in North Dakota, traverse through South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and end at crude oil hub in Patoka, Illinois, providing significant financial benefits to these states (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 5). The expected capacity of the pipeline is 570,000 barrels of oil per day which is expected to be more beneficial than railroad transportation (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 5). The cost of the pipeline is estimated to be $3.7 or $3.8 billion according to different sources; the final price remains unknown (Siegelman, Lipsman, and Otto 2). The initial aim of the project is to provide a safer way to move the crude oil to domestic refineries; moreover, the project is expected to provide these services at a lower cost, compared to the existing alternatives (Siegelman et al. 2). While the project is able to provide serious profit to the local governments and the states, it also has a potential to severely damage the environment, as well as cultural sites of the local Native Americans.
When the media reported about the pipeline’s route, the Native Americans from the local tribes began to protest against the project. As the protesters had stated, they were not aware that the project would cross their sacred lands, and the company did not inform them about the pipeline’s route prior to the project’s approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. As the members of the tribe feared that the pipeline would not only devastate their sacred lands but also contaminate the waters from the Missouri River, they established protest camps in North Dakota.
The sacred lands of the tribe also provided archeological findings and rarities to the local and state archeologists. In September 2016, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) published an open letter to the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers. The society stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated some of their responsibilities from the National Historic Preservation Act, i.e. began construction on the burial cairns of the tribe (Society for American Archaeology 1). Environmental activists also took part in protests, reminding the company of possible hazardous impacts of the pipeline on the water, soils, flora and fauna of the states.
Nevertheless, Dakota Access, LLC, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other stakeholders find the project highly profitable and financially beneficial. First of all, the project is expected to provide a $1.9 billion increase in labor income to the states that the project covers (Siegelman et al. 2). Moreover, it will create additional jobs, both temporary and permanent, that will result in an employment increase of nearly 33,000 job-years (Siegelman et al. 2). One of the major advantages of the project is the taxes revenue that will benefit the local and state governments (Siegelman et al. 3). According to the Dakota Access, LLC’s environmental assessment, the chosen route is the one that is highly efficient and the least hazardous to the environment of the states (Dakota Access Pipeline Project 21).
As it can be seen, both viewpoints overlook serious issues or profitable opportunities. Since the Dakota Access Pipeline is a project that has a potential both to provide serious benefits to the local governments and severely damage the local environment and cultural heritage of the tribes, it needs to be rerouted to meet the needs of both parties and ensure that little to no damage is done during its implementation. However, the first side (i.e. the protesters) has a different view of the problem.
The protesters provided various data and assessments of the project’s impact on the environment and cultural heritage of the tribes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presented a detailed report about the project where it was stressed how the project would influence the resources within the affected environment. The impact on vegetation is considered to be temporary during the construction, but the list of the species that will be affected consists of more than twenty types (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 20). Moreover, as the document states, the spread of noxious weeds due to the project will have an adverse impact on other vegetation.
As the non-profit public interest law organization Earthjustice has stated in its “Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief”, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) violated the Clean Water Act (5). It had issued permits without a thorough analysis, public notice, public hearings, and public interest analysis. Neither the company nor the Corps warned the tribes about the future project and how it would affect the Missouri River that the tribes and the states use as a water source.
The National Historic Preservation Act was also not taken into consideration. The company or the Corps should have contacted the tribes prior to the beginning of the project and consulted them on the project’s plan and its impact on their cultural heritage. Moreover, according to the Act, the government agency also should have evaluated the historical significance of the sites (Earthjustice 8). The agency had to provide notifications about the historic properties that would be affected by the project to all consulting parties (Society for American Archaeology 2). Nevertheless, the Corps did not do it, leaving the tribes without any warning about the project’s impact on the property. On the one hand, it seems obvious why the notifications were neglected because they would trigger even a bigger scandal that could eventually postpone the beginning of constructions.
On the other hand, the Corps decision to issue a permit and violate the law remains unclear as it is not directly involved in the project and should protect the legal interests of the state. However, the current situation demonstrates that the Corps supported the company, with or without understanding that it also violates the law. Nevertheless, the complexity of this issue lies in its potential profitability that will result in significant tax revenues and increase in the number of jobs in the states. The objects that are being defeated by the both sides present different value to the parties: cultural and environmental to the first party, and financial and practical to the second one. The second side (i.e. the supporters) provide their opinions about the project and why it should be continued.
The supporters of the project point out that it is capable of generating significant profit to the farmers, local governments, and states. As Siegelman et al. notice, since the Bakken oil is transported by railroad, it brings serious losses to farm economy of the Dakotas, as well as Montana and Minnesota (8). The trains and other equipment could be used to transport grain instead. The pipe will allow the states use the railroad to transport grain, which will cover the farm revenue losses ($66 to $99 million). Another advantage of the pipeline is its impact on the employment rates in the states and the benefits connected to it: North and South Dakotas’, Iowa’s, and Illinois’ output (in $Millions) “will be approx. $1,052.86, $835.84, $1,088.74, and $753.35 respectively” (Siegelman et al. 6).
The transportation of oil through the pipeline is less expensive than transportation by railroad (Siegelman et al. 8). The fiscal impact on the states that the pipeline’s route crosses is expected to be $128 million (collectively). As to increase in income taxes, it will be about $28 million (Siegelman et al. 51). The report written by Siegelman et al. does not address the problem of environmental hazards in detail, only stating that both pipeline and railroad accidents can happen, but “generally [they] have good records carrying hazardous materials” (48). However, an accident on this pipeline might result in a national catastrophe if the pipeline will contaminate waters of any major river in the states.
Environmental impact is addressed in another report, published by the stakeholder, i.e. Dakota Access, LLC. Although the report addresses all affected sources in detail, the impact of the project is considered to be minor and temporary. As stated in the report, all equipment of the company will be inspected, and in the case of an unlikely leak, the Geographical Response Plan and Facility Response Plan will be used to ensure that the general public is protected (Dakota Access Pipeline Project 33). However, the plan to protect general public has already failed as the company decided not to warn the tribe members about the project and its possible adverse impacts on the territory and cultural heritage. The company’s aim to protect general public remains dubious. The protesters clashed with the private security officers and their dogs (both sides were injured), while the company destroyed some valuable archeological sites during the construction (Meyer par. 14). Thus, the company’s aims do not yet align with its actions. However, none of the sides aims to abandon its initial intentions. Therefore, they need to be presented with a solution that will get approval from the both sides.
As complex as this problem might be, there is still a solution that could be considered suitable by both sides. Pojman, Pojman, and McShane present three various ethical theories: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics (19-21). While consequentialists strive for the best outcomes (even if certain interests need to be sacrificed), deontologists emphasize the importance of rules, duties, principles, rights, regulations, etc. (Pojman et al. 20). At last, virtue ethics concerns the humanity’s disposition towards the environment. The character here defines the action (e.g. if we are greedy, we can cause resource drain). All three theories can apply to the dilemma: consequentialist approach demands that the stakeholders need to bring best outcomes both for the tribes and for the company i.e. continue the project but not destroy the historical sites and contaminate the waters.
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Moreover, the project has a potential to benefit the citizens of the states, and this fact can be considered as “the best outcome” too. Deontologist approach suggests that we need to understand the rights of the people, animals, and vegetation that will be affected by the project. At the same time, the future workers also have the right to be provided with a new position on the company’s construction sites, and the company’s owners have the right to gain revenues from the project they have been sponsoring. The virtue approach suggests that individuals should resolve environmental problems with the help of the character or emotions. This method implies that we can both feel sympathetic towards the tribes who are in danger of losing their cultural heritage and towards the people who will lose their job or income if the project ceases. Thus, the three approaches demand that the solution needs to resolve the problems of both parties.
Rerouting of the pipeline seems to be the only solution that will satisfy both sides: the pipeline will not affect the archeological sites and the waters of the rivers, while the project will still generate the tax and other revenues. Opinions of both sides do not align with the environmental ethics theories as they simply present then needs of the parties. Demolition of the project will cause severe losses on the local and state levels, while no changes in the company’s plan might result in a national catastrophe. It can also destroy cultural heritage and contaminate source of clean water of the tribes. The project provides opportunities for future development of energy transportation in the USA but also presents a danger to local farms, Native American tribes, and rivers of the states. Rerouting might not resolve all the problems connected with the project, but it will certainly diminish their impact on both sides without affecting the opportunities that the Dakota Access Pipeline provides.
Dakota Access Pipeline Project. “Final Environmental Assessment.” assets.documentcloud, Web.
Earthjustice. “Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.” Web.
Meyer, Robinson. “The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The Atlantic. 2016, Web.
Pojman, Louis P., Paul Pojman, and Katie McShane. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. Nelson Education, 2015.
Siegelman, Harvey, Mike Lipsman, and Dan Otto. “An Assessment of the Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.” nobakken, 2014, Web.
Society for American Archaeology. “DAPL Letter.” Saa. 2016, Web.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Assessment Grassland and Wetland Easement Crossings.” fs.fed, 2016, Web.