Quora Question: What Are Arguments in Favor of the Dakota Oil Pipeline?

North Dakota pipeline
Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota on September 9. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

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Answer from Paul Towne, senior energy consultant and strategist:

Please remember, the question is "What are arguments in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline" and not "Shouldn't we halt all consumption of hydrocarbons and use only renewable sources."

I will skip the obvious economic arguments for the Dakota Access Pipeline presuming I don't need to explain capitalism.

Safety is the strongest argument. The Fraser Institute reported that moving oil and gas by pipeline was 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume the same distance by rail.

According to data published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) for June 2016; crude oil moved by rail within the PADD 2 region where Bakken oil is produced was 418,000 barrels per day, which is slightly less than the planned capacity for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Nearly all of the crude oil being shipped by rail within PADD 2 is coming from the Bakken producing region in North Dakota. Dakota Access Pipeline would drastically reduce crude oil shipments by rail within PADD 2.

No transportation mode is without risk. Government regulations for transportation by passenger vehicle, truck, railroad and pipeline are designed to minimize risks to the public and the environment.

Perhaps ethical concerns are the next best argument in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Crude oil is fungible and will be produced whereever the return on invested capital is the highest. Interfering with crude oil transportation by a particular mode in a particular region that results in higher transportation costs may impact economic returns which could perhaps slow, reduce or halt production within a region.

However economic reality informs us that these efforts simply shift crude oil production to a different region of the planet. These actions are akin to "squeezing a balloon."

Is it ethical to interfere with crude oil transportation and production economics in a region where rule-of-law, strong government regulation and oversight exist to minimize risks to the public and the environment when the outcome would be to shift those risks to another region that is less able to do so? Is it ethical to protect backyards in developed countries at the expense of the welfare and environment in less developed countries, many controlled by regimes that willingly exploit their populations for financial gain?

Not building the Dakota Access Pipeline already presents an ethical dilemma as crude oil already travels by rail through the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. Crude oil travels on a rail line within a few hundred feet of the high school in Wakpala, S.D. Crude on that same rail line crosses Main Street in McLaughlin, S.D., five blocks from the McLaughlin School District, Wakpala Elementary School and Sitting Bull College. Crude oil on that rail line eventually crosses the flood-prone Missouri river into Mobridge, S.D. after crossing Oak Creek in multiple locations as it passes through the reservation. The public and environment on the Standing Rock Reservation are already exposed to a higher risk than if the same crude oil were transported by pipeline.

If transportation by pipeline is safer than by rail, wouldn't it be ethically better to transport crude oil via a safer transportation mode like a pipeline that isn't in the Standing Rock Reservation than to continue exposing the residents and their environment to crude oil transported by rail through population centers and across water sources in the reservation?

Remember, the question was "What are the arguments in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline."

Transportation safety is vitally important. Transportation over land requires crossing roads, water sources and private property, sometimes near or through population centers. Elected officials recognized their responsibility to minimize risk to the public and the environment due to transportation by car, truck, rail and pipeline for the public when they created and delegated those responsibilities to the Department of Transportation.

My experience has been that informed engagement with regulators, particularly those in North America is likely the best available means for protecting the public and the environment. The Dakota Access Pipeline has already been subject to that scrutiny and determined to produce that result.

Increased protection for the public and the environment secured through an ethical, transparent decision making processes conducted in a well developed country with strong rule of law are the principal arguments for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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