Analysts Say Dakota Protests Changed Oil Pipeline ‘Landscape’ Forever

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Analysts believe the months-long Dakota Access Pipeline protests have changed forever how energy companies approach developing future pipelines.

Energy companies and pipeline developers must consider selling the merits of pipeline projects to communities before beginning construction, analysts told reporters. The massive demonstrations against the so-called DAPL, they add, were definitely a wake-up call for the energy industry.

“Energy Transfer is evaluating all its communications strategies on a number of levels, so that they can take what I would call  ‘lessons learned’ and apply them moving forward,” said Vicki Granado, whose public relations firm represents Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the multi-state pipeline delivering Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

ETP went silent shortly after President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders in January approving the construction of both Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. The Army Corps of Engineers, through the Obama administration, rejected the route Dakota was supposed to take across Lake Oahe.

The energy industry has made its pitch to communities in the past. ETP, for one, argued the 1,172-mile-long project would create up to 12,000 construction jobs and provide millions in state and local revenues during the construction phase. It would also rake in as much as $129 million annually in property and income taxes, according to the Army Corps.

Environmentalists groups and Standing Rock Sioux, both of whom argue the pipeline would trample on tribal ground and poison the tribe’s water supply, were not swayed by the company’s assurances. Recent surveys conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, however, show the project never violated sacred ground.

Communication breakdowns are a problem.

Demonstrations against DAPL, as well as Keystone XL, serve as a warning sign, Brigham McCown, a former official at the Department of Transportation during the George W. Bush Administration, told reporters. Companies have to communicate with the community better or risk facing more protests going forward.

The problems are unlikely to recede any time soon, because pipeline investments have increased since 2010 by some 60 percent, according to an American Petroleum Institute; they nearly doubled from $56.3 billion in 2010 to $89.6 billion in 2013.

“The landscape has forever changed,” McCown said. “You’re going to have to convince people why your project is important.”

Another energy company, Dominion Resources, has been proactive in selling its cause. It conducted polls, organized focus groups and sought support from unions to cobble together support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas line connecting West Virginia to the East Coast.

“You have to focus on explaining the benefits—creating jobs, heating people’s homes,” Chet Wade, Dominion’s vice president of corporate communications, told reporters about his company’s change in approach.

Most pipeline companies fixate on acquiring approval for a proposed route and use benefits strictly to lobby state and federal legislators.

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