Environmental Activism and Social Protests – Is the Truth Dead?

In a country so divided on so many issues and with so much information available from so many sources it is hard to discern fact from fiction.  The recent revelations by and about “fake news” mongers, who populate the internet with misinformation, either for fun, profit or to advance their own cause, should not surprise anyone.  What is surprising is the ability of this misinformation to motivate people to take action without assuring that their actions are based on information that is accurate.  While it is human nature to pick a side and stick with it, elevating those beliefs into physical actions seen in some of the recent protests can be harmful and costly to oneself and to others.     While some believe you can’t fight ideology with facts, one has to wonder if some activists, once exposed to the other side of the story, aren’t embarrassed by their actions. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are a prime example of protests based on misinformation.  The thousands of people energized by misleading stories or urged to participate by environmental/social justice groups delayed completion of that pipeline for months.  Among the reasons for their protests were the pipeline would desecrate sacred Sioux Nation Tribal lands and the pipeline posed a threat to the Sioux Nation’s water supply.  The uproar over this pipeline even forced the Obama Administration to revoke a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers to Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the pipeline – a permit needed to complete the final small segment of the line.  Videos of the protests showed damage to equipment and property as one of the ways the protesters made their points.  Unfortunately, it is likely that most of the protesters never took the time to research the real facts associated with this pipeline project.  Had they looked behind the “curtain” established by the protest organizers they may have realized that the tribal issues and the pipeline were not the root causes for the protest, rather it was underpinned by an anti-fossil fuel agenda.

The undisputed facts, had they taken the time to look for them would have shown that 1) the Dakota Access pipeline from its beginning in North Dakota to its end in Illinois was all, but for the remaining 1100 feet beneath Lake Oahe, completed and buried and 2) the completed sections of the line in the vicinity of the protests were not on Sioux Nation lands but on private lands.  Additionally, numerous efforts were undertaken to meet with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to discuss their issues and concerns before finalizing the pipeline’s route.  Also notable was that the planned pipeline segment underneath Lake Oahe would be deeper than the other eight existing pipelines already beneath the lake.  From an environmental protection and safety standpoint the Dakota Access pipeline would be far superior to those other eight existing lines.  Concerns over the threat the pipeline posed to the Sioux Nation’s water supply, whose water supply intake was 70 miles downstream from Lake Oahe, would be alleviated by the depth and advanced technology utilized by the Dakota Access pipeline.

Also lost in the discussion was the fact that pipelines are the safest and most environmentally sound method to transport oil products and natural gas.  Nevertheless, even today threats are still being made to attack the completed pipeline, attacks that would create the environmental catastrophes that many of the original protestors vowed should never happen.  A sad postscript to this whole affair is that the citizens of the State of North Dakota has been left holding the tab for the $38 million spent to control the protestors and to mitigate the damage they caused.

Gary Slagel, who most recently retired as the Senior Advisor of Environmental Affairs for CONSOL Energy, has joined the firm as a Government Affairs Specialist. Mr. Slagel is an engineering graduate from the University of Dayton and spent 35 years with CONSOL and CNX Gas in several capacities including Director of Environmental Regulatory Affairs and later Director of Government Affairs working on both coal and natural gas issues.
 
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