Nearly 200 protesters were arrested last month after trespassing, blocking roads, trapping workers, and destroying equipment at a Line 3 pipeline construction site in Hubbard County, Minnesota. News reports highlighted the extensive vandalism of contractor equipment, unlawful entry into multiple construction trailers, and destruction of environmental safeguards intended to control erosion and protect water quality. Property damage included slashed tires, cut hoses, rocks and dirt in machine engines, forced entry into offices, and destroyed electrical wiring in equipment.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage was incurred by one indigenous-owned contractor alone, Gordon Construction — especially unfortunate considering protesters claim to be fighting for Native American treaty rights; yet they ignore the negative impacts of their actions on these very communities.
Matt Gordon, a member of the White Earth Nation and vice president of his family’s construction company, suggested that “opponents are shielding themselves with Native Americans.” He joined with several other Native business leaders to denounce the protests, writing, “Protests that disrupt work, damage property, and threaten our employees while claiming to be on behalf of our Native people is creating additional tension and consequences within our tribal communities.”
However, violent and destructive protest tactics like these have become all too familiar in the world of anti-pipeline activism. From the fields of Montana to the bayous of Louisiana to the Appalachian Mountains, protesters have taken the fight to pipeline construction sites across the country, living in trees, chaining themselves to equipment and inside pipes, and even committing arson.
Last week, an activist was sentenced to eight years in prison after taking responsibility for millions of dollars in sabotage to the Dakota Access Pipeline back in 2016 during its construction, as the Des Moines Register reported June 30. In the name of climate activism, she and another protester burned five pieces of heavy equipment and used a blowtorch to cut into pipe and burn valves at sites across Iowa.
In North Dakota, thousands of protesters illegally camped near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, vandalizing private property, setting fires, and attacking law enforcement with pepper spray, rocks, and Molotov cocktails. When protesters finally moved on, the state of North Dakota was left to clean up 48 million pounds of trash littered at the camps.
Despite these efforts and legal challenges, the pipeline has been safely operating for more than four years, playing an important role in our nation’s economy and energy security.
Unfortunately, protesters have already vowed to make Line 3 “the next Standing Rock,” which should come as no surprise, considering many of the same activists who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline are now fighting Line 3 in Minnesota with eerily similar tactics. While it may not come as a surprise, it should be cause for concern.
There is an appropriate time and place to express concern regarding infrastructure development. The rigorous regulatory process welcomes input from the public through hearings and open-comment periods. According to Enbridge, Line 3’s developer, the project underwent 70 public comment meetings, appellate review and the reaffirmation of a 13,500-page environmental impact statement (EIS), four separate reviews by administrative law judges, 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input, and multiple reviews and approvals on the state, federal, and tribal level, as the Associated Press reported.
Protesters have shown they are willing to do whatever it takes to block permitted energy infrastructure development. Opponents choose to ignore the science and facts around the need for infrastructure, the extensive permitting and approval process, and the impressive safety record of modern pipelines in favor of ideology and rhetoric, with no apparent regard for the law.
While there may be disagreements regarding pipeline development and American energy policy, destroying property, breaking the law, and threatening the safety of hard-working tradesmen and tradeswomen is not an acceptable form of dissent.
James "Spider" Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and strategic adviser to the GAIN (Grow America's Infrastructure Now) Coalition (gainnow.org). He wrote this for the News Tribune.