Last week, two people chained themselves to the entrance of an Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) pipeline-construction site in Alpine, Texas, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline in running through Texas, called the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, will transport natural gas into Mexico. Opponents have fought the Trans-Pecos for the past two years.
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The action, inspired in part by the protest at Standing Rock, illustrates the diverse array of social and environmental conflicts along the existing and expanding network of pipeline infrastructure in the United States.
Opponent of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. (Sasha von Oldershausen/The Nation)
Pipeline safety has been part of the growing national discussion about energy transportation infrastructure. Critics argue that oil and gas pipelines introduce new environmental hazards. Proponents counter that pipelines are safer than other forms of energy transportation, such as trains or trucks. Ultimately, it comes down to the level of risk we are willing to live with as part of the contemporary fossil-fuel based energy regime.
Using data from federal sources, CityLab has attempted to map accidents or incidents that have occurred along the U.S. network of oil and gas pipelines over the past 30 years. The maps provide an interesting perspective on hazard and risk within oil and gas distribution networks.
George Joseph, “30 Years of Oil and Gas Pipeline Accidents, Mapped.” CityLab, November 30, 2016.
A fire caused by an natural gas pipeline accident roars through San Runa, California. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
The protest at Standing Rock and the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline has focused attention on pipelines and the vast network of infrastructure which enables fossil fuel extraction and production. These issues are not new, and an important question is why Standing Rock galvanized so much attention and concern, when similar conflicts related to development, environmental hazards, property rights, and native sovereignty often remain ignored.
Here is a news story related to an existing, 60-year-old pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy that passes under Lake Michigan.
The pipeline enters Wisconsin in Superior and then runs across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and along the shoreline of Lake Michigan before crossing into the lower part of Michigan. Enbridge operates a recently upgraded pumping station near Mackinaw City, Michigan.
A major oil leak from the pipeline along the shore of Lake Michigan would have significant environmental health consequences. The National Wildlife Federation has spearheaded a lawsuit challenging the 2013 approval of a “spill response plan” by federal regulators. According to the article, “Enbridge has a history of relatively minor spills in Wisconsin and a major one from another line a few years ago near Marshall, Michigan.”
The Enbridge Energy pumping station near Mackinaw City, Michigan. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR
Electrical grids, bridges, pipelines, railroads, airports, waterways, ports … how do we map the pathways of power in modern society?
Here are six pretty cool maps from the Washington Post.
In what appears a significant turning point of the conflict, the Army Corps of Engineers has denied a permit to allow Energy Transfer Partners to drill its pipeline under the Missouri River. This is a major victory for environmental and indigenous rights activists who have protested the Dakota Access pipeline, being built near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. As the New York Times notes, the pipeline has become “a global flash point for environmental and indigenous rights activism, drawing thousands of people … to a sprawling prairie camp of tents, tepees and yurts.”
The future of the Dakota Access pipeline is far from certain, as Donald Trump, who is has stock in Energy Transfer Partners and has signaled support for the pipeline, prepares to take office early next year.
The Dakota Access pipeline would transport up to 550,000 barrels of oil a day from western North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois.