Why I Don’t Support The North Dakota Pipeline Protests

REUTERS/Josh Morgan

Andrew Wilford National Taxpayers' Union Foundation
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Over the last few days, many Facebook users have been checking in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota in order to show solidarity with those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline and to confuse police allegedly tracking protesters. I was not one of these people, and not just because there is no evidence to support that local police are monitoring Facebook locations. I was not one of these people because the Dakota Access Pipeline would be good for the economy, and a lot of the fears about the pipeline are overblown.

First, protestors claim that the pipeline will desecrate a burial ground, yet construction will not cross into the land of the Standing Rock reservation. Moreover, pipeline developers contacted the tribe and offered them the opportunity to survey the land, which the tribe rejected. Planners also made a total of 140 route changes to avoid “potential cultural resources.”

More importantly, those affected by the pipeline are allowing it to happen; 100 percent of affected landowners in North Dakota have signed voluntary easements allowing construction to move forward. Even many of the Standing Rock Sioux are tired of the protests and would like to see them end.

Additionally, fears of a substantial environmental impact are misguided. The Army Corps of Engineers concluded that any environmental impact would be “temporary and not substantial” and noted the developers’ efforts to avoid negative environmental impacts and cultural sites. Pipelines are also much safer than they are often made out to be, with 99.999 percent of crude oil and petroleum products being delivered with no issues.

Protesters also need to realize that the Dakota Access Pipeline is a good thing for the economy. The direct economic impact of the project is support for 8,000-12,000 jobs, an estimated $156 million in state and local tax revenue and an estimated $55 million in property taxes. Some may remember the remarkable economic boom North Dakota experienced just a few years ago from hydraulic fracturing. The state jumped from being ranked 38th in the United States in GDP per capita in 2004 to third in 2012. While the price of oil has dropped, and some have declared a fracking “bust,” North Dakota was second in 2015 with a per capita GDP of $66,507. Oil production supports good, high paying jobs.

Moreover, the benefits go beyond just the direct economic impact. A potential 7.4 billion barrels of oil remain untapped in the region, almost three times more than the amount the entire country imported in 2015, thus helping to promote energy independence. Lower oil prices also are an effective anti-poverty program. Because oil is a crucial input for most businesses, when oil prices go up, businesses spend more money on production costs and lose profits. When production costs are higher and profits are lower, prices go up, causing inflation, which affects lower-income Americans the most. Greater oil supply reduces energy bills, which also hit the poorest Americans much harder than the rich. Oil prices are also closely tied to the cost of food, which hurts the poor the most.

With all this in mind, it’s difficult to support the protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline. The environmental impact is temporary and negligible, all regulations have been complied with, cultural sites will remain undisturbed, and it offers economic benefits that extend well beyond oil tycoons’ bank accounts. The pipeline is, economically speaking, a slam dunk.

Andrew Wilford is an associate policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He graduated from American University in 2016 and is a Young Voices Advocate.