My Voice: Dakota Access Pipeline safe, efficient

With yet another fiery oil train wreck, it’s time we come to grips with the reality of our energy and environmental needs.

America’s energy surge, which has transformed our economy and raised our nation to the status of oil and natural gas superpower, has taxed our infrastructure to the breaking point. Quite plainly, we’re producing so much oil from the Bakken fields that the accident in the small town of Heimdal, N.D., on May 6 of this year, has become almost predictable. It was the third derailment in the eastern part of North Dakota inside of three years, including the one near Casselton, N.D., that forced the evacuation of 1,400 people.

Here’s another cold splash of reality. Oil and natural gas are projected to remain, by far, the dominant sources of America’s energy mix for decades to come. The annual outlook published last month by the Energy Information Agency predicts that total U.S. energy needs will rise nearly 9 percent by 2040. The share for natural gas will rise from 27 percent to 29 percent over the same period, while petroleum products will decline from 36 percent to 33 percent. Renewables grab a bigger share of the mix, growing from 8 percent to 10 percent by 2040.

We have an urgent need to build more capacity in our pipeline network, and the proposed $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline should be at the top of our to-do list. It will connect the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to a line that will run through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Ill. DAPL will enable 100 percent domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner.

DAPL also represents a huge economic stimulus to the region, powered by private investment. According to figures released by project owner Energy Transfer Partners, the 1,100 mile pipeline will create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs during construction, and generate $605 million in labor payments to the various contractors working on the project. Millions of hours of labor will be needed during the construction phase, putting welders, mechanics, electricians, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators and others within the heavy construction industry to work.

The Dallas-based company said that S.D. landowners along the route will receive $47 million in direct payments to landowners for right-of-way easement payments. DAPL will also translate into millions in state and local revenues during the construction phase. It will generate an estimated $35 million in state use, gross receipts and lodging taxes and $2.9 million in local taxes. Construction will result in nearly $74 million in sales taxes to the states of N.D., S.D., Iowa and Illinois. All of this is new revenue and ongoing property taxes can be used to support schools, emergency services, road maintenance and other ongoing needs.

The safety record of pipelines, compared to tanker trains and other modes of shipping energy resources, is unmatched. The U.S. network of more than two million miles of pipeline is heavily regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation for both safety and reliability. Pipelines have proven to be the safest, most efficient means of moving crude oil.

As the Washington Post recently reported (”It’s a lot riskier to move oil by train instead of pipeline,” Feb. 20), “It’s abundantly clear that the rate of accidents per billion barrels is significantly higher for rail, and it also fluctuates more year to year.”

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline would eliminate 4 to 7 unit trains per day, helping ease railcar transportation shortages for agriculture and other products in the region. The American Farm Bureau Federation released a study last month, authored by South Dakota Ag Economist Elaine Kub, that shows the need for pipeline infrastructure to alleviate rail congestion. The study shows how new pipelines would help farmers get their product to market while increasing efficiency.

If the U.S. is to continue on its path to energy security and economic growth, we need an expanded pipeline system – with every safety feature new pipelines are equipped with – without delay. It’s time to build the Dakota Access Pipeline for a safe and efficient infrastructure worthy of an energy superpower.


Dawna Leitzke, Pierre, has served as the executive director of the South Dakota Petroleum and Propane Marketers Association for 20 years. My Voice columns should be 500 to 700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships.