Bruised But Not Broken, Dakota Access Line Foes Turn to Keystone

  • Environmental campaigns have energized fossil fuel opponents
  • Sierra Club adds 300,000 new supporters since Trump’s win

Environmentalists may have lost their months-long battle against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, but their war against the oil and natural gas industry is far from over.

Not only are groups including Sierra Club joining forces and renewing their efforts to take down TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL line, a project that now has the State Department’s blessing to carry Canada’s oil to the Gulf Coast. They’re also taking advantage of 300,000 new supporters and a surge in donations made to fight Dakota Access and Keystone to target smaller pipelines that had previously gone under the radar.

“We do plan to double down on Keystone, and we plan to use Keystone as a launching point to change a lot of hearts and minds and to fight multiple other projects at once,” Sara Shor, a campaign manager at the New York-based environmental group 350.org, said by phone.

From President Donald Trump’s backing of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, environmentalists have found a silver lining. The new administration’s support of oil and gas infrastructure has energized what activists say is a more organized, formidable opposition that’s hungrier for battles than ever. Their arsenal includes legal challenges, public pressure on banks to withdraw financing and targeted lobbying of regulators and lawmakers.

“The coalition and the community of groups fighting these projects are getting creative, recognizing that the oil and gas industry does have a friend in the White House,” Lena Moffitt, a Washington-based campaign director at the Sierra Club, said in a phone interview. “We are expanding the tactics that we are using to fight these projects.”

Among the pipelines they aim to target are Keystone; Dominion Resources Inc.’s $5 billion, 564-mile (907-kilometer) Atlantic Coast pipeline that’ll carry gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina; and Energy Transfer Partners LP’s expansion of the Bayou Bridge line that delivers oil to Louisiana.

First they’ll go after the projects’ financiers --a strategy that’s already proven somewhat successful in the fight against Dakota Access and coal projects. Take Greenpeace, which circulated a petition to lobby banks against funding Keystone on the same day the State Department approved it.

Then, they’ll fight the pipes in court. A coalition that includes the Sierra Club has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block Williams Cos.’s Atlantic Sunrise gas line in Pennsylvania, arguing that federal regulators cut corners in their review.

Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said the action “reeks of desperation,” and would only delay much-needed energy infrastructure. Dominion and Energy Transfer did not respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, a coalition led by the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana, challenging the State Department’s permit for Keystone. That followed a similar filing Monday by the Indigenous Environmental Network in the same court.

Targeted Protests

Groups are also orchestrating more targeted protests at agencies at the local, state and federal levels. "Projects used to go unopposed, and now they’re facing intense grassroots resistance at every level, and that will only continue to intensify,” Shor said.

Activists have already gone as far as to camp outside the homes of U.S. energy regulators. Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Tony Clark called police last year after protesters rang his doorbell while his family wrapped up dinner. Such personal attacks prompted Pennsylvania utility commissioner Robert Powelson, said to be one of Trump’s picks for FERC, to remark during a recent conference, “The jihad has begun.”

While Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access line prepares to start service, the pipeline industry is under no illusions about the fights they face. Opposition to gas lines has only grown in recent years, even as greater use of the power-plant fuel has helped curb emissions blamed for global warming, Cathy Landry, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said by email.

See Also: TransCanada Granted Presidential Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline

In responding to activists’ calls to target Keystone, TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said the project has already gone through “the most rigorous environmental review process of any cross border pipeline in history.”

“Pipelines remain the safest, greenest, most reliable and cost efficient way to transport oil over long distances,” he said by email.

Other projects that’ll be targeted for organized opposition include Enbridge Inc. oil lines in the Midwest, and EQT Corp.’s $3 billion Mountain Valley gas line that would tap supplies from the Marcellus and Utica shale basins in the eastern U.S., Moffitt said. Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for EQT, said the company has worked closely with residents on pipeline safety. Enbridge declined to comment.

After Dakota Access and Keystone, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Brandon Barnes said, “Certainly there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled for the protesters that are fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

— With assistance by Dave Merrill

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