Religious, historical and cultural insights on tikkun olam provide helpful background for arguments supporting protests against the Dakota Access Pipe Line. But other considerations, as well as my own conversations with ranchers, oil patch workers and others who endure 60-below North Dakota winters to bring Americans meat and energy strongly suggest that the DAPL and its approval process actually are trying to “repair the world” and advance human rights and social justice.
This $3.8-billion 1,172-mile state-of-the-art 30-inch conduit will carry 470,000 barrels of oil daily from the state’s Bakken oil fields to Illinois. It’s more than 90 percent complete, and the only North Dakota segment left to be finished is a 1,100-foot passage under Lake Oahe, a manmade reservoir on the Missouri River.
Noting White House input and citing still unresolved environmental questions, the Army Corps of Engineers recently withdrew its previously issued easement for that segment.
However, the DAPL is next to a natural gas pipeline that already runs through the same areas and under the lake. It will replace 700 railroad tanker cars or 2,000 semi-trailer highway tanker trucks per day. Bakken’s light, sweet crude oil replaces imports, fuels our vehicles, powers our economy and provides raw materials for essential products.
Once it is buried and new grasses are planted, the pipeline will be invisible except for occasional pumping stations, valves and other facilities. Modern metals (extra thick under the lake), warning systems, automatic shutoff valves, 24/7/365 monitoring and other safeguards minimize the risk of spills.
Some 140 revisions rerouted it around populated areas and sensitive ecological, archaeological, sacred and historic sites. The pipeline is 99.98 percent on private land.
All these and other issues were addressed repeatedly and thoughtfully during a three-year, 389-meeting review and approval process. Landowners, communities, environmentalists and citizens provided input, and 55 Native American groups were consulted.
Prominent in their failure to participate were the Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation is a half-mile from the pipeline’s lake crossing. Only after the pipeline was nearly finished up to both sides of Lake Oahe did Standing Rock leaders and members voice opposition. They were joined by Indians from other states and by thousands of activists who are frequently praised as “peaceful resisters” against a threat to tribal culture, drinking water and sacred sites.
In reality, the DAPL does not traverse sacred sites, and a dozen other oil, gas and refined product pipelines already cross the Missouri upstream of the tribe’s water intake.
Moreover, the activists are trespassing on federal and private land. Militants have blockaded roads and rail lines and set fires to prevent passage. They’ve destroyed forage that ranchers were depending on to feed their herds during winter months.
One tried to shoot a deputy. Others burned a bridge, detonated explosives on another bridge, destroyed millions of dollars of construction equipment, chased livestock until they lost their calves — and killed, maimed and ate cattle, horses and domesticated buffalo. One rancher received death threats.
A favorite tactic employs “peaceful prayer groups” to block and distract ranchers and sheriff’s deputies in one area, while others destroy nearby fence wire and posts. One rancher told me repairing just the fence on the ranch where he grazes buffalo will cost at least $300,000 and weeks of hard work.
Lost forage and animals, time and fuel spent on repairs, and other expenses will cost other ranchers well in excess of $500,000.
No one has offered any compensation, even though the militants have millions of dollars.
Washington Times journalist Valerie Richardson reports that the activists’ Sacred Stone camp and Red Warrior camps have raised more than $11.2 million on crowd-funding websites for food, supplies, shelter and legal defense, even though the frustrated Standing Rock tribal council now wants them to leave.
Area residents say the protesters have also received “charitable and educational contributions” from billionaires like Tom Steyer (coal), George Soros (currency speculation), Warren Buffett (railroads and tanker cars) and environmentalist groups. More than 90 percent of those arrested have been out-of-state agitators, and many are paid to be there.
Many locals hope pro bono lawyers, legal foundations and attorneys general will freeze the assets and pursue claims to compensate ranchers and companies.
Last January, 26 peaceful ranchers who occupied federal wildlife refuge property in Oregon were arrested, one was shot and killed, and the rest were tried for — and found not guilty of — theft, conspiracy and weapons violations. Many wonder why thousands of North Dakota militants have gotten a free pass.
The nearly completed DAPL went through a lengthy review and approval process, received its needed permits, must cross the river somewhere and now cannot be rerouted.
Ironically, it is the protesters who threaten tribal drinking water. When the snows melt, tons of their urine and excrement will be carried into Lake Oahe.
What then is driving these protests?
The DAPL is a rallying point for “keep it in the ground” activists who want to ban hydrocarbons that still provide 82 percent of U.S. energy. Replacing all that energy would require a million 600-foot-tall wind turbines, a half-billion solar panels, thousands of miles of new transmission lines and hundreds of millions of acres of biofuel crops.
These expensive projects would harm habitats and wildlife, and higher energy prices would primarily impact small businesses, hospitals, blue-collar workers, and poor and minority families.
Activists focused on climate change fail to recognize that stopping the Dakota pipeline will not reduce U.S. oil use or rapidly expanding oil, gas and coal use in China, India and a hundred other developing nations.
They appear unaware that average global temperatures are rapidly falling from their 2015-2016 El Niño spike back to the no-change trend that has prevailed since 1998 — or that no Category 3-5 hurricane has made U.S. landfall since October 2005, beating the previous 1860-1869 record by two years — even as plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide levels continue to rise.
Protesters do not acknowledge that pipelines are safer than trucks or rail cars. The low-pressure, state-of-the-art DAPL will be monitored constantly and inspected regularly.
Many believe the Standing Rock Sioux ultimately want a share in pipeline revenues: Even a penny per barrel would bring it $1.7 million a year.
If a raging blizzard doesn’t do so, it is likely that President Trump and North Dakota officials will soon evict the protesters, end the stalemate, reissue the Army Corps easement, and broker an “art of the deal” arrangement with the tribe. The pipeline will then be completed in short order.
If nothing else, this DAPL experience illustrates that tikkun olam, creation care, human rights and social justice may generate easy sloganeering. But multiple interest groups, perspectives, and energy, economic, environmental and ethical considerations often demand truly rabbinical sagacity.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and a member of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax.