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The Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) represents a broad range of companies operating in the oil and gas industry, including pipeline companies and surveyors, environmental consultants, and subcontractors that work on pipelines. In advocating for a competitive business climate for our members, much of our time is spent working to promote a regulatory environment that ensures some semblance of certainty to those looking to make meaningful investments in Montana.

In North Dakota, construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has been delayed in spite of receiving approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in July, as well as every operational permit required by law, following an extensive public comment period, wherein current protesters were nowhere to be found. Additionally, 100 percent of voluntary easement agreements have been secured with the properties along the route in North Dakota, where recent protests have stopped progress of the pipeline which had been projected to be operational by the end of the year.

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, alleging they had not engaged in “meaningful consultation” with the tribe as required by law, and that federal regulations governing environmental standards and historic preservation had been ignored. The Corps confirmed, however, that the pipeline did not cross tribal lands, and on Sept. 9, Judge James Boasberg of the D.C. District Court, who denied the Tribe’s lawsuit, stated that the Corps had sufficiently followed federal law in approving the pipeline, and that because the majority of the pipeline sites were on private land, claims of harm to tribal archaeological sites were unsubstantiated.

The same day as the federal judge denied the Tribe’s lawsuit, however, three federal administrative agencies, including the Army Corps, stepped in to halt construction of the pipeline by requesting Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, to voluntarily pause all construction activity within the contested area near Lake Oahe. Now, the Army Corps will move to “reconsider any of its previous decisions” regarding whether the pipeline respects federal law.

Bear in mind that the pipeline operator has already undergone a rigorous permitting process, including consultation with a subcontractor, GeoEngineers, which assessed impacts of the project to natural features, cultural resource features or above ground structures, and found none. The crossing at Lake Oahe would be placed approximately 92 feet below the bottom of Lake Oahe.

MPA understands the threat of a federal administration swayed by lawsuits and unlawful protests. Obstruction and delays of projects, i.e. the Keystone XL pipeline, has been the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s mismanagement of public lands.

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Pipelines are lifelines to the American economy and modern way of life. They are the safest means of transporting petroleum products, and are an indispensable economic engine across the country.

As the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy reported from a recent study, banning energy development on federal lands would cost the United States $11.3 billion in annual royalties, 380,000 jobs, and $70 billion in annual GDP. Nearly 25 percent of America’s oil, natural gas, and coal production would come to a grinding halt.

Businesses which follow the letter of the law should be granted the right to operate. We cannot afford the uncertainty created by lawsuits, delays, and last minute reconsideration of permitted activities, and we certainly cannot afford decisions made to support a “Keep it in the Ground” agenda.

Alan Olson is the executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association.

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