Demystifying Pipelines

Nothing has galvanized the professional protesting class quite like the campaign to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. The #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock last year drew thousands of people from around the world, many of them from unrelated “social justice” movements like Black Lives Matter, “standing in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock.”

These protests have spawned a growing number of similar disruptions at pipeline construction sites around the country and have even led to demonstrations at bank branches of the institutions financing pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure projects.

What’s most troubling about this “beautiful resistance,” as some are calling it, is that it’s built entirely on myth and mythology. Take the battle cry of the movement—“Kill the Black Snake.” It’s derived from “an ancient Lakota prophecy about a black snake that would slither across the land, desecrating the sacred sites and poisoning the water before destroying the Earth.” The black snake is question is, of course, the Dakota Access pipeline.

But even though the mythology of the movement is attracting all manner of violent extremists and self-serving hypocrites, the facts are getting in the way of their collective effort to “keep it in the ground.” And we don’t need to look any further than Standing Rock itself to see just how badly these protestors have mangled the facts.

The heart of the anti-pipeline case against DAPL is that the pipeline would desecrate sacred Native American land and that “the mere presence of oil in the pipeline, separate and apart from any leak in the pipeline, under their sacred waters [of Lake Oahe] will render those waters ritually impure and, therefore, unsuitable for use in their religious sacraments.” (Emphasis added.)

But nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the pipeline simply is not on Standing Rock Sioux land. According to, “99.98% of the pipeline is installed on privately owned property in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The remaining 0.02% of the land is owned by the Federal Government. The Dakota Access Pipeline does not enter or cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation at any point.”

Second, if the mere presence of pipelines “under the sacred waters” of Lake Oahe will render those water “ritually impure,” then that water has been impure since 1982. That’s when the first of eight other pipelines were installed under Lake Oahe. This includes two parallel 42-inch pipelines that have been operating safely under the lake bed for 35 years. People may not be aware of these other pipelines because—much like the 2.4 million miles of pipelines crisscrossing America—they are operating efficiently and safely 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

And by way of comparison, while the existing eight pipelines are buried a few feet beneath the lake bed, DAPL is safely ensconced at least 92 feet below the bottom of the lake, so concerns about a debilitating leak are misplaced, to say the least.

These are just two of the countless misrepresentations by the #NoDAPL protesters, but they clearly demonstrate that the anti-pipeline movement is driven by emotion and mythology and have little regard for facts.

But facts are stubborn things. Here are just a few important facts about pipelines that you can cite when discussing the vital role this critical infrastructure plays in our modern way of life.

With 2.4 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines, the U.S. has the largest network of pipelines in the world. These pipelines not only deliver gasoline, home heating oil, and natural gas but also transport the crude oil to refineries and chemical plants to create the petrochemicals needed for everything from seatbelts to cell phones to medical supplies to car seats.

Pipelines move a lot of oil and natural gas every single day. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, “To move the volume of even a modest pipeline, it would take a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Pipelines move all of that oil and natural gas safely. According to recent testimony by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, “Pipelines are the safest and most cost-effective means to transport the extraordinary volumes of … liquid products that fuel our economy.  Since 1986, the volume of energy products transported through pipelines has increased by one-third, yet the number of reportable incidents has decreased by 28 percent.”

Pipelines are a critical part of the infrastructure that makes our electric, agricultural, manufacturing, and transportation systems possible—to list just a few. Ironically, their ubiquity and safety mean that too many people take them for granted, or worse, fall prey to the hysterical manipulations of extremists with more time than intellect at their disposal.