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Editorial comment

This issue of World Pipelines includes a lead feature on pipeline construction, detailing a number of successful projects. However, not all pipeline projects are straightforward.

The US is currently playing host to a controversial pipeline project; Dakota Access (DAPL). This pipeline construction project seems to have become the ‘new’ Keystone XL, generating global mass media coverage.


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First proposed in 2014, the US$3.8 billion, 1172 mile pipeline will transport crude oil from the Bakken oilfield in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, before terminating at a refinery in Illinois. At present, construction of the line is over 95% complete, with just a small section, primarily including the crossing under Lake Oahe, left to lay.

With over 2.4 million miles of oil and gas pipelines currently operating in the US, DAPL will cater to the nation’s energy market by transporting half of the Bakken’s oil production to refineries across the country, before it is distributed to consumers.

Advocates of the project include state and local government leaders, who believe construction of the pipeline will lessen the US’ dependence on foreign oil as well as benefit the nation’s economy.

With the vision of becoming an energy independent nation, DAPL will transport domestic crude in an environmentally responsible manner – through a 30 in. dia. heavy-walled steel pipe – rather than relying on crude-by-rail or crude-by-truck methods.

At present, North Dakota’s crude oil is transported primarily by rail. Though this has caused a boom in the rail industry, crude-by-rail is not necessarily a more effective alternative to pipelines. An extensive report published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research1 compares the safety aspects of energy transportation via pipelines, road, rail and barge. The study provides evidence that pipelines are not only safe, but are “the safer option” out of the abovementioned transportation methods.

Between 2013 and 2016, at least 10 rail explosions occurred in North America, resulting in numerous casualties. Project operator, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), stated that DAPL will be able to replace seven trains of 100 - 120 carriages every day from North Dakota; a substitution that would automatically lessen the risk of spills and potential accidents.

Yet, despite its benefits, not everyone praises the project. DAPL first saw signs of opposition in April 2016 and, since then, the project has generated tremendous public interest across the world. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmentalist groups have been at the centre of the protests, claiming that the pipeline threatens to contaminate Lake Oahe, which is the tribe’s primary water source, as well as contribute to global warming through potential leaks.

However, ETP insists that measures have been taken to safeguard against a spill. The company has, and will, continue to inspect the pipeline during the construction and operation stages of the project in order to comply with regulatory standards. Once in-service, the line will be remotely monitored 24 hrs/d and will be subject to regular onsite inspections.

The company also noted that DAPL will not impact the reservation’s water supply. The tribe currently gathers water approximately 20 miles away from the pipeline’s proposed route and, reportedly, the tribe is set to relocate its water source 70 miles downstream from the line.

The project is expected to create around 8000 - 12 000 jobs, as well as inject money into industries such as manufacturing, construction and other similar trades. The project will also generate approximately US$55 million in annual property taxes and US$47 million in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois sales taxes. From this increased revenue, DAPL will be able to improve schools, roads and emergency services in areas the pipeline passes through. Overall, the line will be able to increase regional employment, benefit the nation’s economy and offer a safe method of energy transportation. Now, after a turbulent construction period that saw regular temporary halts, a verdict has been made. On 24 January, US President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders, which will see the construction of DAPL advance. He has also signed an order to revive the previously vetoed Keystone XL pipeline expansion project, which will transport crude from Canada into the US.

With his known support for the oil and gas industry, Trump commented that his support of both DAPL and Keystone XL is driven by the need to promote energy policies that will benefit the US and its people.

1. https://www.tmanhattan-institute.org/pdf/ib_23.pdf


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