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The Lesson from DAPL: Fight Back Quickly

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


DAPL is teaching the oil and gas industry something; companies taunted by fractivist games and special interests need to fire a lot of people and get tough.

Marcellus Drilling News does it again. Nobody digs up more facts that others need to know about the oil and gas industry than Jim Willis. A perfect example is the testimony he published Friday from Joey Mahmoud, Energy Transfer Partners’ Project Director for the Dakota Access Pipeline. That testimony documents so much of what others know about DAPL that simply isn’t true. It’s a plain-spoken document and candid; two features one almost never gets out of the corporate public relations and legal world, where rolling over and spitting out bland disingenuous mush are the preferred weapons for defending the industry from those who wish to kill it.


DAPL riot at bridge. Bridge damage by rioters deprived some area residents of access to emergency services.

Offered below are some great excerpts from the Mahmoud testimony (emphasis added):

Over the course of the last six months this project, and our company, have been subjected to a series of politically motivated actions by the previous administration, accompanied by a host of half-truths and misrepresentations in both social and mainstream media. These have inflicted significant financial and reputational damage on our company.

For the most part we have refrained from public comment while we worked directly with the regulatory agencies, the Native American community and the last administration in an effort to bring this matter to a satisfactory close. Sadly, those efforts came to naught. We are now prepared to tell our side of the story. In so doing, I hope to introduce some important, and badly needed, reality to the discussion.

Dakota Access is a $3.8 billion, privately funded pipeline project which, during the course of construction, has employed more than ten thousand skilled and unskilled workers. During its entire 1,172 mile journey from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois it does not cross a single inch of tribal reservation or trust land. It crosses a mere 1,094 feet of federally owned land.

During the greater than two year-long permitting process for the project we and the Army Corps reached out to, and accommodated, 55 different Native American groups…

The Standing Rock Tribe was the first tribe we approached and our initial presentation to them was made in September, 2014. Over the next two years we continued to reach out to the tribe, both publicly and privately. It was clear from their response they had no interest in discussing the project with us.

In addition to our efforts, the Army Corps reached out to the tribe on nine separate occasions. Despite these efforts the Standing Rock declined to participate in any meaningful way. On July 25, 2016, the Army Corps brought to conclusion its two-plus year review of the project, issuing an environmental assessment approving, among other things, our application for a crossing of the Missouri River at the current site.

After declining to identify specific objections to the project and repeatedly rejecting any meaningful efforts at consultation, the tribe, supported by Earthjustice, brought a legal action seeking to block the project. On September 9, 2016, a federal judge issued a 58-page opinion rejecting the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction and finding that the tribe “largely refused to engage in consultations.” Within minutes of the judge’s ruling the Departments of Justice, Interior and the Army issued a joint statement indicating that, notwithstanding their successful defense of the permitting process in federal court, they were declining to issue an easement—the only outstanding document needed for completion of the project

Perhaps the greatest irony in a saga replete with ironies is that the Standing Rock have just relocated their Missouri River water intake to a point more than 70 miles downstream from the pipeline crossing, but less than two miles downstream from a railroad crossing that is known to carry large amounts of crude oil in tank cars

[T]he selection of the river crossing site was largely driven by a desire to ensure the protection of cultural resources. The river crossing site for the Dakota Access Pipeline is located within a utility corridor which already includes the Northern Border Natural Gas Pipeline and a high voltage electric transmission line.

Some have alleged that the crossing site was chosen in an effort to avoid crossing at the more populous site north of Bismarck. That is simply not true. The Army Corps’ extensive alternatives analysis found that crossing at the northern site would require the crossing of an additional 33 waterbodies that are connected to or drain to the Missouri River and 21 additional wetland crossings. Quite simply, the site chosen is, by far, the most benign site for the crossing, and would reduce impacts to stakeholders and the environment.

The facts above were conspicuously absent from either the social or mainstream media coverage of the protest movement. To have followed this dispute only through those media would have led one to believe that the protest movement was all about a small band of Native Americans peacefully expressing their First Amendment rights in opposition to the project.

While that may have been the case at the outset, it quickly ceased to be so as the protest grew in size and intensity. And, whatever the motivation of the protestors, this movement was far from peaceful. Protestors assaulted numerous pipeline personnel, one of whom required hospitalization. Millions of dollars in construction equipment was destroyed. Two publicly owned vehicles were burned and a pistol was fired at law enforcement personnel. The makings of improvised explosive devices were found at a bridge crossing, one of which exploded causing a protestor to lose her arm.

Local ranchers reported incidences of stolen cattle, buffalo, fuel, and farm equipment. As of February 9, over 660 protestors have been arrested for arson, criminal trespass, interference with law enforcement personnel, and in one case, attempted murder. Fewer than 6% of those arrested are from North Dakota

The unfortunate truth, which I would respectfully urge this Committee and the Congress to recognize, is that this is a well-organized and well-funded effort based primarily on hostility to fossil fuels. We have received numerous reports that some of the protestors are being paid, and the North Dakota Commissioner of Revenue is investigating. Law enforcement personnel have also reported that a number of the protestors appear to have been professionally trained. Whether those being paid for their protest efforts share the agenda of those paying them is unknown, but what is known is many are now showing up in resistance to other pipeline projects.

Far from being an exception, I fear the aggressive tactics we have seen in North Dakota will soon be the norm—if they are not already. Perhaps most troublesome is the support given these efforts by the recently departed administration…

The “easement” which has been the focus of so much public attention since, is a simple ministerial document which was part and parcel of the river crossing permit. That easement was arbitrarily withheld by the former Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works and was not received until last week. We can only speculate as to her motivation, but what is abundantly clear is that the Department of the Interior, and most likely senior members of the White House staff, interfered deeply and inappropriately in the waning stages of the regulatory process…

Finally, it is abundantly clear that notwithstanding their repeated public pronouncements that the Army Corps and Dakota Access had complied with all applicable requirements for construction of the pipeline, and notwithstanding two successful defenses of the permitting process in federal court, these agencies had made the political decision that they were not going to issue the easement. Mr. Chairman, we came to realize that even a company as large as Energy Transfer is helpless in the face of a government which will neither obey nor enforce the law.

We came to realize that playing by the rules can count for little. And we came to realize that good faith efforts to reach  accommodation, whether with the Native American community or our own government, can be a fool’s errand when political motivation overrides the rule of law.

The violence Mahmoud cites, all covered up or excused by mainstream media, is disgusting, as are the political games played by the Obama Administration. Nonetheless, these aren’t the big lessons to be drawn from DAPL. Who didn’t expect Warren Buffett to fund opposition? Who was surprised when EarthJustice and other gentry-class-financed fractivist shills showed up? Who thought Obama would ignore his political constituencies and play fair? The answer, revealed in Mahmoud’s excellent conclusion, is the same in all three instances; only a fool.

Yes, Energy Transfer Partners let itself be played. By “refrain[ing] from public comment while [working] directly with the regulatory agencies” it took the role its enemies had given it for this fractivist theater. It almost certainly wasn’t Mahmoud’s fault, though. Rather, I lay the blame squarely on the corporate public relations folks these pipeline companies invariably hire to write mush. Then there are the corporate lawyers who imagine the route to victory is hiring more of them to fight in court the next several years. The lesson of DAPL is that you have to assert your rights in the strongest possible way the moment you realize someone’s trying to kill you.

Sadly, so many in the oil and gas world and especially in the pipeline industry just don’t get it. The North Dakota government does. It has been outspoken from the beginning and has assembled exactly the kind of website needed to get facts out, although it could be snazzier. Why didn’t Energy Transfer Partners release Joey Mahmoud to talk earlier? That’s the real question. You can’t defeat the enemy charging at you with intent to kill by suggesting a compromise. When will these people learn?

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4 thoughts on “The Lesson from DAPL: Fight Back Quickly

  1. Considering the sheer amount of misinformation I have seen in the news over the last 4 plus years on multiple pipelines one has to come to the conclusion that companies were excruciatingly slow in recognizing that being silent and allowing misperceptions and inaccuracies to be broadcast and accumulate was the absolute worst strategy to choose. There are now years of inaccurate information that has reached the public about multiple pipelines, ferc and more and all of that is what citizens (including reporters new to specific pipelines on controversies ) have to wade through. None of this is beneficial.

  2. Filthy pigs are suppose to show care for the enviroment yet trash it. One has to ask what and why are they protesting for but then…all you have to do is remember the organizers of these protest are paid professional fear mongers. Some collecting 6 figure salaries, its about extortion not the environment

  3. The problem is not how much garbage the anti’s left behind in North Dakota or how much organizers are or are not being paid, it is how to regain the narrative about realistic and clean energy development.

    The Lancaster Against Pipelines people are organizing in suburban PA not rural ND. They can get all the day trip supporters they need from York, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Philadelphia and maintain an “encampment” with a small number of vetted campers. The site is the private property of a supporter so control of unruly supporters and litter management is not likely to be a problem. Parking, toilets, traffic on 2 lane roads and inconvenience to local residents are more likely.

    Go to their website, http://www.wearelancastercounty.org/blog , to see when their events are and what they plan to message. What I expect is the usual Kabuki theater rituals of singing around the campfire and harangues about the evils of fracking, until it comes time to tear down the sacred shack on stilts. That might be the time the organizers and/or supporters over-react. It is vital that we do nothing to interfere and let them mess it up all on their own (again).

    In the meantime, make sure that every local TV, cable access, newspaper and radio station has absolutely factual information about how much renewable infrastructure would be required to replace gas and realize the anti’s utopia. The idea is to put them on the defensive about their real agenda instead of blaming us for everything. If we can supply the media with facts and then lean on them to ask the questions, the messy details about siting thousands of wind turbines and hundreds of square miles of solar panels will make a hidden pipeline more attractive to these suburbanites.

  4. It is disturbing and frustrating that the story of the young woman who lost her arm was covered extensively by the media when the instant allegation was that the “stormtrooper” police were to blame, yet the story disappeared without a trace after the realization that it was caused by an improvised explosive made by protestors. I feel radical elements promoted the martyrdom narrative even though they knew better. Why waste a good story even if it is a lie? As for the reality, the phrase “hoist on one’s own petard” comes to mind even if it’s not a perfect fit.

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