Agencies troubled over halted work on part of Dakota Access pipeline

The Obama administration’s withdrawal of a permit for construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline when work was already under way is both unprecedented and deeply troubling, the presidents of the American Petroleum Institute and North America’s Building Trades Unions said.

“This sets a precedent which ignores the rule of law. It’s a unilateral attempt to change rules in the middle of the game that goes beyond pipelines, and could threaten roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects,” API Pres. Jack N. Gerard told reporters during a Sept. 13 teleconference.

“We have never seen a situation like this in the building trades,” said NABTU Pres. Sean McGarvey, who also participated. “Our members have been working on this project for 4 months now and have been threatened by busloads not of local people, but protesters from outside.

“We absolutely support full federal investigations into violence against people who simply were trying to get to work. Anything less is intolerable,” McGarvey said.

Their remarks came 4 days after the US Departments of Justice and the Interior, as well as the US Army jointly blocked construction of a portion of the proposed 1,172-mile, 30-in. pipeline after a federal district judge rejected the Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction (OGJ Online, Sept. 12, 2016).

In their joint statement, the federal entities said they supported people’s rights to assemble and speak freely, but urged everyone involved to avoid violence and promised to deploy resources “to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety.”

Action condones lawlessness

“Most of this pipeline isn’t even on Indian land,” Gerard responded. “This sort of action condones lawlessness after all the parties involved in the pipeline’s construction got the necessary permits during months of opportunities for input at the federal, state, and local levels from all the stakeholders.”

McGarvey said protests against new energy projects in general have become extreme. “We’ve raised concerns about violence involving projects elsewhere, particularly Tesla’s in California where workers have been threatened,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), a partnership of agriculture, business, and labor entities that supports construction of projects in the Midwest, and the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington protested the Obama administration’s action with a newspaper advertisement in several major markets.

“We absolutely need these pipelines,” Ross Eisenberg, NAM’s vice-president for energy and resources policy, told OGJ. “That’s why we’re supporting this one and others. We believe projects need to be held to the highest safety and environmental standards, but once these are met, let them be built. That’s what this comes down to.”

Kelcy Warren, chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the pipeline project’s sponsor, said in a Sept. 13 memorandum to employees that the project is nearly 60% complete, employs more than 8,000 skilled laborers who are constructing it, and has cost more than $1.6 billion so far. “We intend to meet with officials in Washington to understand their position and reiterate our commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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