American Oil and Gas Revolution Threatened by Protests against new Pipelines


The new American oil and natural gas revolution that has created greater independence from foreign influences and their energy and which has stimulated a renaissance in American manufacturing is increasingly threatened by the efforts to stop new pipeline construction by activists and environmental groups. After successfully stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, groups have turned to focus on all other new pipeline construction going on in the U.S. In recent weeks, intense scrutiny has been on the Dakota Access pipeline, but if you look around the country many other pipelines are attracting unwanted attention. The Sacagawea Pipeline in North Dakota, the Energy East pipeline in Canada, the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the Mid-Atlantic pipeline both serving the Mid-Atlantic region where the Marcellus shale is located, the Enbridge pipeline extensions in Wisconsin, the Sandpiper pipeline in Minnesota and North Dakota, the Sabal Trail pipeline across the Southeast and many more are under attack.

Of even greater concern is the increasingly dangerous tactics being employed. Climate activists halted the operation of five oil sands pipelines in a show of solidarity with American Indian tribes fighting the $3.7 billion Dakota Access crude pipeline in North Dakota. Five activists began manually turning off emergency safety valves on pipelines in North Dakota, Montana and Washington plus two in Minnesota this morning, halting shipments of oil sands from Canada into the United States. This action was led by a group formed to fight Keyston XL called the Climate Disobedience Center. The lines are Enbridge lines 4 and 67 in Leonard, Minn.; TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, N.D.; Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont.; and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Anacortes, Wash. Two of the climate change protesters who tried to shut down pipelines from Canada into the United States are being charged in Minnesota under an anti-terrorism law, and others are facing felony charges. The Minnesota Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002 makes it a felony to damage or trespass on property belonging to utilities or pipeline companies. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison. The group’s members charged broke into a valve station that controls Enbridge’s pipelines and gave the company a few minutes’ notice that they were going to start closing valves. Enbridge was able to shut down the line before the protesters carried out their threat, but had they actually spun that valve shut, the spill and other consequences would have been catastrophic.

The sabotage illustrated how vulnerable pipelines are to low-tech attacks. Climate activists broke through fences and cut locks and chains and simply turned the pipelines off. All they had to do was twist shut giant valves on five cross-border pipelines that together can send 2.8 million barrels a day of crude to the United States from Canada – equal to about 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption. The United States is the world’s largest energy market, and the infrastructure to drill, refine, store and deliver that energy to consumers is connected by millions of miles of pipeline that are impossible to protect entirely from attack. There are more than 200,000 miles (322,000 km) of oil lines and many times that of natural gas lines across the United States. Thousands of rural and often remote pumping and valve stations dot the country. The cost of posting armed guards at valve stations, usually found every 20 miles along the underground pipelines, would be prohibitive. In Mexico, thieves target the fuel arteries to siphon off fuel. But until last week, environmental activists had never carried out a simultaneous, coordinated attack of this magnitude. Several pipeline operators and safety experts said shutting off valves was extremely dangerous and that activists underestimated the risks. Once the valves are shut, pressure can quickly build up inside pipelines that operate under as much as 1,000 pounds (450 kg) per square inch. Protesters were taking a chance that a weak spot in a line would not explode, and that employees in operations hubs would spring into action after hearing alarms.

This increasing opposition comes after both Congress and the Department of Transportation have tightened up regulation of all oil and gas transportation sources, rail and oil and gas pipelines to make them safer. The industry has actually stepped up its safety training and is increasingly reliant on more advanced technology such as digital sensors, infrared cameras and drones to monitor security and check for leaks. Without new pipeline infrastructure, the industry is forced to move the oil by train or truck.

This increasing opposition to what is generally considered the safest means of transporting oil has also attracted great concern from business consumers of energy. A national advocacy group’s new campaign, Pipelines for America, promotes pipeline construction as a pocketbook issue for families and businesses, in hopes of countering what it called the environmental movement’s success in blocking energy infrastructure around the country. Led by the Consumer Energy Alliance, it was started by their business group members because they said increasingly, they’re seeing that pipelines are becoming harder and harder to permit and demand for energy continues to go up, If there is more infrastructure and more ways to deliver abundant energy, it’s going to lower prices, it’s going to lower costs.The CEA has been around since about 2006 and has typically worked on broader energy issues like the need for more oil and gas production. Check out their view: