It’s been a few years since the Dakota Access Pipeline started transferring 500,000 barrels of crude oil stored in North Dakota’s Bakken fields daily – and even more time than that since the Pipeline was sprung into the national spotlight as part of a long, difficult situation between opponents of fossil fuels and area law enforcement. Many who closely followed the story in 2016 or 2017 may have moved on to other issues in their lives, but that doesn’t answer a simple question: what ended up happening with the Pipeline? Is it operating today? Is it safe, and has it improved the lives of those who rely on it?
Since the Pipeline started transferring crude in June 2017, North Dakota’s production numbers have increased significantly, hitting a new high of 1.16 million barrels. Texas and the Gulf of Mexico still produce more than North Dakota, but increased production from this part of the country has successfully made America less reliant on foreign oil and more independent by moving almost 200 million barrels of oil as of June 2018.
Though many were concerned about the safety of the Dakota Access Pipeline, especially in the media, in reality the pipeline has proven to be one of the safest fuel transportation systems in the country. In its first six months of operations, the Dakota Access Pipeline moved over 60 million barrels of oil with less than 4 barrels’ worth lost to spills or leakage – an extraordinarily small number, and one that shows that transportation has been virtually without incident. Transportation via train, ship, or truck has proven to be far less safe, environmentally unfriendly, and inefficient – and the Dakota Access Pipeline’s remarkable numbers reaffirm these facts quite clearly.
Furthermore, the line was “intentionally overbuilt” by Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline. This means that the pipe used to transport fuels goes far beyond typical safety regulations and restrictions. It is at least 50% thicker than legally required in the most sensitive areas, and every weld across the pipeline was tested with both ultrasonic waves and x-rays. To ensure that drinking water would be unaffected even in the event of a worst case scenario, Energy Transfer Partners decided to run the line between 95 and 115 feet – as far below the Missouri River crossing located at Lake Oahe as possible.
Despite all of these innovations, concessions, and improvements, the Dakota Access Pipeline still has its critics, who believe that this very safe system poses a risk to the public. However, that is patently untrue. Based on all available data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees safety of the over 2.5 million miles of lines laid across the country, pipelines are by far the safest means by which to move large quantities of crude oil and other energy products. It’s just as important for the product to be safely extracted as it is for it to be delivered to refineries and brought to market, rather than lost along the way.
As mentioned above, without pipelines, oil is transported using train cars, trucks, and ships. With American gas and oil production increasing year over year, this requires more and more infrastructure to support transportation until or unless the world makes a drastic shift away from its reliance on fossil fuels – something that all research indicates will not happen for decades. The most catastrophic environmental disasters concerning petroleum products have resulted from vehicle issues and crashes – not pipelines – and many of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s detractors fail to understand this at any level.
Just a year after opening for service, the Dakota Access Pipeline had a lot of positives to look back on. It proved that despite opposition, it is truly possible to move large volumes of oil across the country, empowering a region of the United States ready to come into its own as a power player in the fuel industry. The Pipeline brought millions of dollars to local economies and businesses by creating 10,000 construction jobs, paying landowners $189 million in easement payments, and delivering $55 million in property taxes to both local and state governments. These gains will be felt by the surrounding areas for decades to come, and their communities have achieved significant benefits from the Pipeline’s development and daily use.
In retrospect, the Dakota Access Pipeline can be clearly seen as a success story – as well as evidence that we as a nation are still reliant on fossil fuels. Rather than fighting against the idea of safer, smarter energy transportation, people should be working together to cut down on carbon footprints and, in the meantime, use the best technology we have available to us to get the natural resources we need and protect the world around us.