Activists Prepare To Fight Pipeline Plans, Again
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Environmental groups say they are ready to fight President Trump's move to revive two controversial oil pipelines. Trump yesterday signed documents to speed up permitting for Keystone XL, which the Obama administration rejected back in 2015, and also for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the administration had put on hold just last month. Amy Sisk of Prairie Public Broadcasting covered those months of protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline site. She joins us from Bismarck, N.D. on Skype. Amy, good morning.
AMY SISK, BYLINE: Good morning, glad to be here.
GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. I don't think I realized that those protesters are still set up in those campsites sites around the Dakota Access area. I guess they might have something to start really protesting again here.
SISK: Yeah. So there definitely are still people here. The camp has been relatively calm since December when we saw the Obama administration announced it would launch an environmental review into the pipeline, and that's compared to the frequent and sometimes violent demonstrations that we saw last fall. But Trump had pledged to make a quick decision on this particular pipeline, and people at camp expected him to greenlight the project. Here's what Jean Anneal of Tulsa, Okla. told me at camp.
JEAN ANNEAL: To me it's not surprising. We were kind of - knew that that was going to happen. To me, this is just such a serious issue that I'm not packing up to go home. I'm going to stay.
SISK: And she won't be alone at camp. The camp has really thinned, but there's still a few hundred people who remain there.
GREENE: So that sounds like a mix of resignation, but determination as well at this point.
SISK: Yes, definitely.
GREENE: You mentioned that environmental review. So President Trump signed those documents, he also signed this executive order to streamline those types of reviews for pipelines. He called these reviews horrible and cumbersome, but, you know, you had the Standing Rock Tribe asking for an even more thorough review, which is a difference of opinion here. What were the tribe's concerns, Amy? Just remind us.
SISK: Yeah. So the tribe's number one concern has to do with water. It's concerned about a potential oil spill where the pipeline is slated to cross under the Missouri River next to the reservation. And there's several recent major oil spills in the region that has the tribe concerned. Just last month, we saw a pipeline leak 176,000 gallons of oil in western North Dakota. There was another big oil spill this month in Saskatchewan. We have, you know, data showing that most oil - billions of gallons of it - does make it safely to its destination via pipelines, but of course leaks do happen, and they can be devastating.
GREENE: And we should say, I mean, there are a lot of people who joined this protest from around the country, it wasn't just those protesters at those campsites.
SISK: No, this pipeline fight has really become ground zero for the environmental movement. Big environmental groups like 350.org have gotten involved, they're a climate change activist group, and they hope to essentially disrupt the transportation of fossil fuels. The idea is that if oil can't get to market, it won't be extracted anymore. And several prominent environmentalists are now vowing to fight in the streets. The courts essentially take the level of protest against this pipeline to new heights.
GREENE: But, Amy, there's another side of this debate. I mean, you have the oil industry, labor groups. I mean, they have been saying that these two pipelines could be real job creators, so this must be good news for them.
SISK: Yeah, it definitely is. They're pretty pleased with what Trump is saying now about this pipeline. You know, the oil industry says that pipelines are safe, and that North Dakota's Bakken oil patch needs pipelines to stay competitive. The oil patch out here has long relied on trains and trucks as a method of transporting oil, and the industry says that those are more expensive and more dangerous. I talked to Ron Ness with the North Dakota Petroleum Council about this, and here's what he had to say.
RON NESS: This pipeline should be moving oil today, and we'd have 2,000 or 3,000 less trucks on the road in western North Dakota. We'd be getting our oil to market at - to a better market more safely and more reliably, and we'd be getting a better price for it.
SISK: And he tells me that Trump's action is a significant step, and he hopes to see the final permit needed to complete this pipeline soon.
GREENE: And just briefly, I mean, we talked so much about Dakota Access, it seemed like Keystone XL and that whole debate was long ago, but President Trump is now reviving that pipeline to carry oil from the Canadian tar sands. What's next there?
SISK: Yeah. So TransCanada, which is the company that wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, they've already indicated that they will be reapplying for a permit. Now, the economics aren't too good right now for tar sands oil, and environmentalists of course have vowed to fight tooth and nail if the Keystone project is revived. You know, that was their signature victory under the Obama administration, and they believe that tar sands and oil should not be developed or transported.
GREENE: OK, talking to Amy Sisk, who comes to us from Inside Energy, that's a public media collaboration focusing on America's energy issues. Amy, thanks as always.
SISK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.