Pipelines are essential to get crude oil and natural gas from a production site to processing and then for use in the market. When properly constructed, operated and maintained within the pipeline safety rules, they provide an efficient method to transport these products that are so valuable to our economy. However, in recent years, it has become more and more common for environmental groups to protest the construction of new (and safer) pipelines.
The years-long and still ongoing saga of the Keystone XL Pipeline is well known. After undergoing numerous environmental reviews that established it had little overall environmental impact, President Obama declined to grant authority to construct the trans-boundary portion of the pipeline. President Trump issued a Presidential Memoranda in which he invited TransCanada to resubmit its application and stated a final permitting decision must be made within 60 days of the resubmittal. TransCanada submitted its application within several days.
The Dakota Access Pipeline has become as well known and has engendered actual protests at the construction site. Although there are several existing pipelines along the same route, and although the pipeline does not cross the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, protests to the pipeline have taken on a life of their own, with arguments based more on emotions than the actual facts. The Corps of Engineers under the Obama administration declined to grant certain easements. However, President Trump instructed the Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law and as warranted, … requests for approvals to construct and operate the” pipeline, including any “permits or approvals under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.” The Corps recently announced it would grant the necessary approvals.
While these are nationally known pipeline protests, others simmer around the country. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana has generated large crowds at public hearings. Some of the arguments raised in written comments in opposition include increased climate risks and a general opposition to the oil and gas industry. In Pennsylvania, opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project planned a large-scale encampment to protest.
Although there may actually be spontaneous, grassroots movements that arise organically in opposition to these pipelines, more likely than not national organizations are the genesis of these local protests. Some national environmental groups have community organizers on the payroll or have strong alliances with local groups. When a project comes up in a community and opposition to it will align with the national organization’s overall agenda, the organizing begins, culminating in local groups acting as proxies for advancing the agenda of the national organization.
The agenda or motive for organizing these protests seems to be a commitment to stopping the use of fossil fuels and/or a belief that spending money on such infrastructure is an unwise investment that should be spent on renewable energy. Regardless of the motive, having a local group out in front as the face of the protest removes criticism that out-of-state groups are the only ones worried about the project.
This tactic and protest trend will not go away anytime soon. President Trump has vowed to unlock the $50 trillion potential of untapped oil and gas resources to make this country energy independent and create thousands of jobs. This approach is in direct opposition to certain national groups’ stated plan to move beyond fossil fuels to other forms of energy. Many more protests are already “in the pipeline” and coming to a community near you.