Anti-Pipeline Activists Play A Cynical, Costly Game
They aren’t getting the national media attention that was focused on the year-long, often-violent protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016/17 , but activists are still disrupting the building of a number of pipelines around the country. Several major new oil and gas pipeline projects around the U.S. are experiencing delays and disruptions due to the ever-evolving tactics deployed by well-funded anti-development activist groups. Here are some examples that have taken place in recent weeks:
- A stop-work order was issued by FERC on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on August 13, in reaction to an August 10 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacating two federal permits related to the joint venture between Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. The appeals court decision was issued related to a complaint filed by animal rights activists concerned about a “takings” permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) for the line. The order remained in effect for more than a month before being lifted on September 17, when USFW issued a replacement permit setting stricter limits on the takings allowed.
- Protesters of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 project blocked a bridge in northern Minnesota on September 19 and performed a water ceremony there before being run off by law enforcement officials. Demonstrators also constructed a tipi on the bridge, but it didn’t remain there for long. A local County engineer noted that the protesters delayed the work of a contractor for a few hours and that the road project related to the bridge has no relationship to the pipeline. A spokesman for Enbridge also noted, presumably without a hint of irony, that there is no Line 3-related construction going on in anywhere in Minnesota at the current time. But the demonstrators seemed unconcerned about that lack of nexus to their actions – they got the media attention the desired and no doubt walked away satisfied, deconstructed tipi in hand.
- Politico Energy reports that two native American tribes brought a lawsuit on September 11 against the Trump Administration challenging its approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline’s northern leg, ” arguing the State Department approved the pipeline without weighing the potential damage that spills and construction could pose to cultural sites.” The complaint filed by the Fort Belknap and Rosebud Sioux tribes requests that a Montana judge order the rescission of the permit granted by the administration in 2017 on the grounds that it failed to properly assess how the pipeline would impact their water and sacred lands. A hearing date has yet to be set.
- In Louisiana, a suit filed by the landowners and activist groups in the Atchafalaya River basin led to the temporary halt to the construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ (ETP) Bayou Bridge Pipeline project. A state judge was scheduled to hear arguments related to an injunction request on September 10, but ETP reached a last minute agreement with the plaintiffs to voluntarily stop work on a segment of the line until questions over its ability to build on private property under the state’s expropriation law are settled. The process is expected to delay the restart of construction until at least November.
All of this is so counterproductive and frankly, ill-advised. These pipelines are without question the safest, most efficient and most environmentally-friendly way to move oil and natural gas to the markets they serve, and the demand for the products they transport is strong and growing stronger. While all of these pipelines will ultimately end up being completed, time is money in the midstream business, and these delays and work stoppages only serve to raise the cost of energy for everyone, while doing little if anything to protect the environment.
But the activist groups don’t really care about any of that. They’re in this for the conflict, because the creation and maintenance of conflict is how they raise their money. That’s goal number one, the short-term goal of what they do.
Goal number two is the long game: “Keep it in the ground”. These groups do want to keep the oil and gas in the ground, one of their favorite talking points, in the belief that by doing so they can dramatically increase the price of oil and gas, thus forcing a more rapid conversion to their favored “renewable” fuel sources and electric vehicles. Having failed time and time again over a decade to “keep it in the ground” by banning Fracking or other onerous measures, they decided a few years ago to take a second, less direct track to hamper the production of oil and gas by preventing the means of transporting it to market, i.e., the building of pipelines.