President Trump signed three presidential memoranda, which are similar to executive orders, this morning intended to restart construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline projects, the Associated Press reports. Both of these pipelines stalled under the Obama administration after ongoing protests.
One of them instructed the US Army to expedite review and approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Another requested that the Keystone XL operator TransCanada re-submit its application for a permit to construct the pipeline. It also directed the secretary of state to approve the pipeline within 60 days. A third memorandum gave the secretary of commerce six months to figure out a way to get the companies building pipelines to use materials manufactured in the US.
The orders could reignite protests that both pipeline projects sparked, in large part because of concerns about potential spills. Pipeline leaks are not infrequent, often caused when construction workers hit the pipes, natural disasters strike them, or even just corrosion and time, according to a report by ProPublica.
The federal agency that oversees most of these pipelines, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, inspects only 7 percent of natural gas lines and 44 percent of “hazardous liquid lines” regularly, according to ProPublica’s 2012 report.
These leaks are more than theoretical. Just last week a Canadian pipeline spilled 200,000 liters of oil. The spill occurred within the Ocean Man First Nation aboriginal community. A local resident with a sharp nose, and not the pipeline company, detected the spill by its odor, Reuters reports.
Dakota Access Pipeline
The Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, is a $3.8 billion dollar pipeline planned to run 1,100 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. It has been almost entirely completed, except for a section that would run beneath a reservoir on the Missouri River in North Dakota.
This reservoir, called Lake Oahe, is at the epicenter of protests against the pipeline. Lake Oahe is the water source for the local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which argues that it wasn’t adequately consulted when permits were being granted. The tribe says that a pipeline leak could contaminate its water supply and that construction has already destroyed culturally significant sites.
The US Army Corps of Engineers owns the strips of land adjacent to Lake Oahe, which the pipeline would have to cross in order to be completed. In December, the US Army ruled that it would not grant the necessary easements to that land, stopping the pipeline in its tracks. The US Army is now proceeding with an Environmental Impact Statement and exploring alternate routes.
Yesterday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe requested that the protesters, who prefer to be called water protectors, go home and leave the protest camps. Many continue to stay, however, convinced that the fight is not yet over.
Law enforcement action against the protesters has grown increasingly militarized. Photographs recently surfaced of two Avenger missile systems near the drill pad, reportedly to target drones. However, a spokesperson for the North Dakota National Guard told the Daily Beast that the missile launchers are unloaded and just being used to keep an eye on the protesters.
Trump’s ties to the energy industry have raised questions about conflicts of interest, especially since he still has not fully divested from his businesses. In fact, Trump has owned stock in the Dakota Access Pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners — between half a million and a million dollars in 2015, and between $15,000 and $50,000 in 2016, The Washington Post reported. Trump’s spokesperson Hope Hicks told The Post that Trump sold the stock, but hasn’t provided proof to back up that claim.
What’s more, Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO Kelcy Warren contributed $100,000 to the Trump campaign, according to Reuters. And the company reportedly contributed millions of dollars to energy secretary nominee Rick Perry’s aborted presidential campaign as well. Perry was paid $82,420 last year for sitting on ETP’s board, and, in December, held $154,000 worth of shares in the company, according to the Texas Monthly.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has pledged to take legal action against today’s memorandum, which a lawyer for the tribe called hasty and irresponsible.
Keystone XL Pipeline
The plan for the Keystone XL pipeline was for it to carry crude oil for 1,200 miles from Canada to the border between Nebraska and Kansas. From there, it would connect to the southern leg between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast of Texas — that section’s called the Gulf Coast Pipeline.
While there is no government body that oversees the entirety of pipeline projects, the stretch that crossed the international border between Canada and the US was subject to State Department approval. After reviewing the pipeline for seven years, the Obama administration decided to kill the project in November, 2015, The Atlantic reported at the time.
The pipeline operator TransCanada promised that the “pipeline will create thousands of much-needed jobs for Americans.” Trump echoed that claim today, when he said,“If they like we will see if we can get that pipeline built - a lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs, great construction jobs."
However, PolitiFact has rated these large jobs numbers as false. The State Department calculated that pipeline construction might create about 42,100 jobs, but those would last only for the duration of the construction. In the long run, they wrote, the pipeline only creates about 50 long-term jobs.
What’s more, opponents worried that the pipeline’s route put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk in the event of a spill. The Ogallala Aquifer is used more than any other aquifer in the US, according to Lisa Song writing for Inside Climate News in 2011.
The aquifer, which is larger than the state of California, stretches beneath Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. More than three-quarters of the people living in Nebraska depend on it for drinking water, and it provides the vast majority of water used for irrigation in the state, Song reported.
Update and correction 6:20PM ET, 1/24: A previous version of this story referred to the declarations as executive orders; they were memoranda. This story has also been updated to include new details about the actions.