With Most of Dakota Access Pipeline Approved, Final Battle Remains Over Critical Portion
Concerns from NoDAPL protesters are seemingly justified with each pipeline safety failure, says DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Thanks for watching The Real News Network, I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. American motorists have been enjoying lower gas prices for most of 2016–but if you’ve noticed a spike in prices at the pump lately, it’s due–in part–because of an oil pipeline leak in Alabama. The spill happened a week ago in Shelby County and CNBC is reporting that over two-hundred fifty thousand gallons of gasoline have spilled into neighborhood retention ponds. Colonial Pipeline who owns the pipeline has constructed a bypass and says the pipeline will be restarted by Wednesday.
But this raises a greater concern in issue about the safety of oil pipelines and it actually highlights, precisely, the protest that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been engaging in against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Joining us today from Indianapolis, Indiana is Steve Horn. Steve is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is also featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. Steve, thank you so much for being here.
STEVE HORN: Good to be back, thanks for having me.
BROWN: I was actually under the mistaken impression earlier this week that there have been two oil pipeline spills–the one in Alabama and another one in Yellowstone River, up in Montana–but upon further investigation, many people on social media were retweeting an article from The New York Times form 2011 about this Yellowstone River pipeline spill and there have been, at least, one more since then. And, the Yellowstone River is still dealing, really terribly, with the outcome from these two pipeline spills. But it really highlights what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest has been all about. What is the latest on the Dakota Access?
HORN: So, the latest on the pipeline right now is sort of a hiatus on only one part. That is the twenty miles east and west of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, which connects to it. Which is located on also near sacred land that the tribe in the area, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has claimed, their sacred sites, their sacred burial grounds. The water, itself, is important to the tribe. The Obama administration announced on September 9th that they asked for voluntary hiatus, by Dakota Access, to stop building the pipeline in that area. Meanwhile, it is important to point out that the very rest of the pipeline have all the permits they need, from all the states, that the pipeline goes through and all of the right of way access from private landowners to build the rest of the pipeline. So, what we’re really talking about is a small but important area that is not yet built. So that is what remains and that’s what the fight will be about in the coming weeks and months.
BROWN: This is not about just the people in North Dakota who are being impacted because you have a piece up on your website, DeSmogBlog, about the Dakota Access. The Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Bakken Oil Pipeline through Iowa, how is this pipeline also impacting Iowans, as well.
HORN: Many people have known about this pipeline, and I praise the activists, I praise the Standing Rock Tribe for putting it on the public radar. The fight over water in the Missouri River but this is a fight that’s actually been going on for a couple of years. We’ve been covering it since, really it was put on the public radar in Iowa. At that time, about a year ago, year-and-a-half ago, it was really Libertarians, and farmers, and also progressive activists in Iowa who were against the pipeline going through their state. The pipeline actually cuts directly halfway through that state, it bisects the state, and then goes on to the state of Illinois and ends in Patoka, Illinois. Also, besides South Dakota it goes through North Dakota.
In these past couple years, right now we’re talking about federal permits, in these past couple years, Dakota Access had to get permits from all four of those states. And they did get them. The biggest fight was definitely in Iowa. It didn’t end up being much of a public discussion in the Primaries, months ago. But it was something that was raised by both Rand Paul, he’s a Libertarian, and Bernie Sanders, of course, who came out against the pipeline before the Iowa caucuses. So this is something that’s of course been on the public radar for a while, in the smaller way. It really gained national attention in the past month or two.
BROWN: Steve you had another piece about the Dakota Access Pipeline, the owners of the company, the Energy Transfer Partners, were they creating fake social media accounts in order to troll activists online? What’s the story about that?
HORN: There’s a coalition that was formed, really because of the fight in Iowa called, The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, it was formed by a PR firm in Iowa called, The G2 Group. It really kinda ended after the thing got pushed through Iowa and they got the permits and they built the pipeline through that state. But that same front group, MAIN, the MAIN coalition, was brought back for revival, because of what’s happening in North Dakota. Now, a new PR firm is controlling that coalition. Its called, the DCI Group. It’s a D.C. based powerful, right-wing, GOP-centric firm. The political director for the Trump campaign used to be the President of the DCI Group, Jim Murphy.
So they’re very well, politically, connected. They have other players too from the firm, going to and out of the revolving door. Including the spokesman for the MAIN coalition now, who formerly worked on the Romney campaign. So, long story short the MAIN coalition social media accounts, is that I noticed, on Twitter that there were some oddball tweets coming out of fake looking accounts with pictures sometimes of famous singers, famous actresses, famous models, tweeting in support of the pipeline. Singing basically the same tune as the MAIN coalition. I spotted that one day, looked the next day as I was writing the article. Almost all of those accounts were gone, except for maybe two of them. But I took screenshots of them and wrote an article, basically, I can’t say its with a hundred percent conclusivity but it seems pretty likely that the MAIN coalition was behind it based on the fact that the messaging reflected perfectly what they’re saying.
They of course denied it but they were a group, MAIN came back along right when protests heated up again after Labor Day weekend where the dog bite incident happened, where this thing really got put in the public radar. DCI group got involved throughout September and they’re still very involved. I think that really shows, DCI group was brought out for crisis communications and it shows that Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners, the company that owns it, does see what’s happening with at Standing Rock Tribe and the Sacred Stone Camp. It’s a crisis, given that they brought out a pro in crisis communication to handle the situation.
BROWN: That’s pretty interesting that social media trolling is now a component of crisis communication so that’s a very interesting take on that. But Steve, we are hearing repeatedly from most of our elected officials, including the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the oil and gas industry, continuously touting the safety of oil pipelines. How its supposedly the safest means of transporting crude oil across great distances. But how safe is it really when we continuously see these oil spills happen often? The oil spill in Alabama, this particular pipeline runs from Texas to North Carolina. Many are viewing it as a blessing in disguise that the oil spill or gasoline spill is being contained to these retention ponds but it very easily could have spilled into a body of water that people drink out of, or over land where it would be virtually impossible to clean up a gasoline or an oil spill. So, how safe is this method of transportation of oil, really?
HORN: A couple things raised here. One, the industry, the MAIN coalition and others have been pointing to the fact that, “Well if we don’t move this stuff through pipeline, its gonna move by rail and look at rail. It explodes. Look at the track record on that.” They point to the bomb trains. It’s a little bit disingenuous because this is the pipeline that’s going north to south. Those trains are still gonna be moving east to west. There’s really no pipeline infrastructure to move this fracked oil east to west. So, both are going to exist under the regime that they know its going to exist, the industry is fully aware that they’re telling the public that its one or the other. And of course there’s the safety of pipelines themselves. Looking at what they say, every pipeline in recent memory that’s been controversial, companies have come out to say, “This is the safest built pipeline in the history of pipelines.” Right now, they’re saying that about the Dakota Access Pipeline. Before that, they were saying it about the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Usually, the track record is, its not like everyday these pipelines are exploding and spilling. But accidents happen, for sure, there’s not the best track record as you pointed out. Look at the Kalamazoo River spill several years ago, which was the biggest land oil spill but that one was carrying tar sands. So, there’s really, that I know of, no huge track record of this bock and oil spilling or exploding or doing anything so terrible. In a way, the biggest concern still should definitely be climate change and the impacts of pumping that oil out of the ground. But at the same time, these are called accidents for a reason. You don’t know. Something could go wrong another accident could happen and it could have water impacts at the Kalamazoo River, Yellowstone River, for the accidental oil spill a few years ago in Montana. It can happen and when it does happen, it has devastating impacts on the surrounding communities and on the water. We’ll see, the jury’s out on whether this is, yet again, the safest pipeline ever, as they’re telling me. Or whether in the future there will be a spill. That remains to be seen.
BROWN: Steve Horn is an investigative journalist. His work has been featured on The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He is also a research fellow for DeSmogBlog. Check out his work there. Steve, we appreciate your time and your analysis today. Thank you.
HORN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.
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