Energy & Environment

Does the Environmental Left Understand How Modern Pipelines Work?

Environmentalist protesters in Los Angeles, September 2016 (Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)
Its wild exaggeration of an 84-gallon Dakota Access spill suggests that it’s either cynical or ignorant.

Last week week, a routine entry in the searchable database at the website of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources indicated that the Dakota Access Pipeline saw an 84-gallon crude-oil spill in April. The environmental Left rushed to publicize the incident as an “I told you so” moment, but activists’ gloating reveals either their cynical dishonesty or their ignorance about how modern pipelines work.

The spill occurred in an Energy Transfer Partners facility specifically equipped to catch spills. Moreover, the precautions in place to prevent environmental damage worked exactly as they should, according to the South Dakota Department of Environment and National Resources.

“As spills go, this spill was contained, all product was cleaned up quickly, and there were no impacts to the environment,” Kim Smith, a spokesperson for the South Dakota department, told me. “The containment system and notification system worked as they should.”

Compare that to the hysterical reaction from leftist activists and their media allies.

Writing in the Guardian, opinionist Julian Brave NoiseCat said that the leak “demonstrates the risk of technological and human failure inherent in crude oil pipelines,” adding that “indigenous communities, ranchers, and workers [are] forced to live under the constant threat of petroleum poisoning.”

Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Standing Rock Sioux, told the Huffington Post: “They keep telling everybody that it is state of the art, that leaks won’t happen, that nothing can go wrong. It’s always been false. They haven’t even turned the thing on, and it’s shown to be false.”

And a Clean Technica reporter claimed the incident “drives home an essential truth about all the systems mankind has devised to transport oil from place to place,” adding: “They all leak. Somewhere, somehow, the vile stuff gets out and when it does, it causes untold damage to the environment.”

Such biased narratives have bedeviled the Dakota Access Pipeline from the beginning. National media readily adopted opponents’ preferred rhetoric in articles, calling demonstrators the “water protectors” and repeating their claims that the protests were “peaceful and prayerful.”

In actuality, the protests were anything but peaceful, as we reported at the time. Local authorities struggled to respond as demonstrators resorted to violence and vandalism. Protestors reportedly threw Molotov cocktails and stones at law enforcement, also threatening police and their families and posting their home addresses online. Local ranchers said protestors trespassed on their land and damaged their property. By the time the protests ended, hundreds had been arrested.

While the Left likes to accuse conservatives of being anti-science, it has ignored any evidence that doesn’t support its anti-pipeline agenda.

These facts received little coverage, the media instead portraying a David-and-Goliath fight in which virtuous protesters took on a corrupt, wealthy industry. And while the Left likes to accuse conservatives of being anti-science, it has ignored any evidence that doesn’t support its anti-pipeline agenda.

Comprehensive environmental reviews, conducted under the Obama administration, showed the risk posed by Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline to be minimal. But some of the same environmentalists who denounced Trump for moving ahead with the pipelines also rushed to participate in the March for Science.

Green activists have also spent the last year publicizing scary statistics about oil pipelines. But just as with the recent Dakota Access Pipeline spill, the reality is less convenient for their political preferences.

Cutting-edge technology such as the containment system installed at the pump station in Tulare, S.D., means that it’s safer than ever to transport oil by pipeline.

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian free-market think tank, analyzed U.S. State Department data, finding that 70 percent of spills that have occurred in North America were a cubic meter or less — hardly the massive leakage environmentalists have implied. Moreover, the Fraser Institute found that only 17 percent of spills take place along the pipeline’s route, the rest occurring in facilities such as the Tulare pump station, which are specially equipped to safely handle spills and avoid environmental contamination.

Overall, the number of pipeline incidents in which people or the environment were harmed has dropped by more than 50 percent since 1999 — even as the United States saw its energy production skyrocket.

The outcome of the Dakota Access Pipeline spill was a technological triumph that should reassure its skeptics. The pipeline’s opponents are trying to spin it into a cautionary tale. In doing so, they reveal their own selective adherence to scientific reason.

Jillian Kay Melchior is a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Jillian Kay Melchior — Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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