|Click for photo credit.|
The series will consist of several parts:
Part 1. North Dakota
Part 2. Boom! Fracking and the Bakken Shale
Part 3. The Pipeline Project
Part 4. The Heart of the Matter: The Missouri River
Part 5. The Standing Rock Sioux
Part 6. The Legal Issues and the Protest
Part 7. Ethical Considerations and Conclusions
Part 3. The Pipeline Project
As was evident in the last post in this series, North Dakota is going through an energy boom. It is producing huge amounts of oil and natural gas. Although the population is growing, the vast majority of this energy is exported to energy poor areas of the U.S. for use or further export. This post will review the use of pipelines in the U.S., summarize some basic pipeline technology, describe the Dakota Access Pipeline project, and close with its current status.
Pipelines are used to transport a variety of liquids and gases all over the United States. Most of us are familiar with sewer and water pipelines that are part of urban infrastructure. Water pipes bring us clean treated drinking water to our homes and businesses from central water treatment plants and sewage pipes remove wastewater from our homes to a central sewage treatment plant for processing. These pipelines serve our urban metabolic needs and help to keep us safe from public health problems that emerge when large groups of people live together in dense clusters.
Besides these pipelines, in some places there are also natural gas pipelines that transport energy to our homes for household uses such as heating, clothes drying, and cooking. While these pipelines are usually safe, moving natural gas around can cause explosions such as the one that occurred in the Lower East Side of New York in 2015 when 2 people were killed and 19 injured.
While we may all be familiar with the pipelines in urban settings, we are probably less familiar with pipelines used for industrial purposes. They are all around us.
|Natural as pipelines in the U.S. Click for image credit.|
|Crude oil pipelines in the U.S. Click for image credit.|
The first pipelines for oil started in the late 19th century but expanded greatly in the first two decades of the 20th century. The first pipelines were relatively simple and not that different from water or sewage pipelines. They were single lined pipes that transported oil by gravity and pressure. Today, the pipeline technology is very different. Newer systems are built to avoid corrosion, they have lead detection systems, and they have a much higher capacity. In addition, pipeline drilling technology allows pipelines to be located deep underground. Regardless, accidents do occur.
|An ammonia pipeline near Tampa. Photo courtesy of|
Aimee van Allen.
Check out the video below from CNN showing the difficulties of cleaning up an oil spill in suburban Arkansas back in 2013.
The Dakota Access Pipeline as proposed (and partially built) is over 1100 miles long and extends from near Williston North Dakota in the heart of the shale fracking fields to Patoka, Illinois. Since it was first unveiled, numerous permits were applied for and received for building the pipeline. Construction is nearly complete in North Dakota. However, one stretch, the crossing of the Missouri River, is contentious because of its vicinity to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. There are many legal and ethical issues surround this crossing that will be discussed in upcoming posts. For now, however, it is important to note that as of this writing, the construction of the crossing is halted.
|The Dakota Access Pipeline project. Note the Standing Rock Reservation is|
shown in orange and crosses both North and South Dakota. Click for photo credit.
If it is completed, the pipeline has the capacity to transport 450,000 barrels of crude oil a day in its 30 inch diameter pipe. The company behind the pipeline is Dakota Access LLC which is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. This group is partially owned by Phillips 66 which owns another pipeline that connects the Illinois terminus of the Dakota Access Pipeline to refineries in Texas. Marathon Petroleum also has an ownership stake in the pipeline project. In many ways, this pipeline is part of a globalized network of energy transportation systems developed by U.S. and multinational industries.
To build the project, the company involved had to get easements either voluntary or involuntary via eminent domain rules. As is the case with many projects like this, most of the access was granted voluntarily in exchange for financial considerations. However, not all land was granted voluntarily and the pipeline remains a contentious issue in all of the states it crosses. However, the most contentious site remains the site where it crosses the Missouri River in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Here, months of protests have generated a national conversation about the pipeline, environmental justice, and the status of tribal lands.
The next post in this series will take a deep look at the heart of the matter, the Missouri River.
1. Where are located in your state? What do they carry?
2. Check your local newspapers and do a search for pipeline accident. Describe your results. Did you find any local examples?
3. Each person in the United States uses on average about 2.5 gallons of crude oil per day. How much crude oil is used in your city, county, or state based on population? If the Dakota Access Pipeline can move 450,000 barrels a day, and each barrel is 42 gallons, what percentage of the Dakota Access Pipeline would your city, county, or state use each day?
4. If you owned property needed to build an oil pipeline, would you willingly give up your property rights to provide access for it? Why or why not?
5. The Dakota Access Pipeline is often seen as a local economic development project. However, it is also part of a globalized energy system. What do you see as the local pros and cons within this context?