Press "Enter" to skip to content

Pipeline Vandalism Undermines Moral Standing of Dakota Access Opponents

Ever since TransCanada plowed its first tar sands oil pipeline across eastern South Dakota, one of my main critiques of pipelines has been private corporations’ ability to use eminent domain to seize our land for their petro-profits. Any consistent conservative mindful of the Kelo v. New London case should pipeliners’ infringement on private property rights objectionable.

I must thus object to whatever thugs are out torching holes in Energy Transfer Partners’ property along the completed Dakota Access pipeline:

South Dakota attorney general’s office spokeswoman Sara Rabern confirmed one incident of what she called “felony vandalism” southeast of Sioux Falls on Friday. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Brown said it happened at an above-ground valve site that had no fencing or other security.

“When deputies arrived, they observed what appeared to be a hole in the pipe, and it looked like there was burn around the hole,” Brown said, adding it was possible the vandalism was done with a blowtorch.

In Iowa, Mahaska County Sheriff Russell Van Renterghem said it appears someone used a torch to cut a hole in the pipeline at an above-ground safety valve site southeast of Des Moines. He said it appears the culprit maneuvered under a fence around the facility. The incident was discovered March 13 [Blake Nicholson, “State Officials Confirm Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Vandalism,” AP via Rapid City Journal, 2017.03.21].

Spokesman Jay O’Hara of Climate Direct Action, a group that tried vandalizing pipeline equipment last October, says his group isn’t behind these Dakota Access incidents but then tries to make excuses for dangerous criminal behavior:

[Professor Kerry] Sundberg said “it’s stupid and dangerous” to tamper with pipeline shut-off valves.

…Sundberg also said that it’s ironic for people who say they’re concerned about the environment to take an action that could cause an environmental disaster.

But O’Hara said: “The hypocrisy really lies in the pipeline corporations who say their pipelines are safe, say leaks don’t happen. They blame activists who are trying to stop global cataclysm by taking action to point out what they do every day, which is leak and spill” [Blake Nicholson and Steve Karnowski, “Dakota Access Pipeline Vandalism Highlights Sabotage Risks,” AP via ABC News, 2017.03.21].

No, no, no, Mr. O’Hara. Violating private property is wrong when Energy Transfer Partners and other pipeliners do it to build their pipelines; it’s just as wrong when pipeline opponents do it for their own cause.

We have the regulatory process. We have the courts, We have elections. We even have civil disobedience, speech acts that call all parties to conscientious objection but subject nothing to the risk of physical harm except perhaps the protestors themselves at the hands of police and private goons.

But we cannot resort to vandalism or vigilantism, not if we want to maintain the moral high ground.


  1. Rorschach 2017-03-22 11:29

    They could probably prove that rail cars leak using the same blowtorch technique. But really all they would need to do is release a statement saying “pipelines and rail cars leak when you cut a hole in them with a blowtorch” and most people would believe without seeing it.

    By “they” I certainly don’t mean Jay O’Hara and his “Climate Disobedience Center.” They would never do such a thing.

  2. Robert McTaggart 2017-03-22 11:49

    Robust and peaceful (and often creative) opposition is great.

    Environmental monitoring and assay of pipelines to make them safer is great.

    Using transportation methods that either reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels is great.

  3. Douglas Wiken 2017-03-22 17:02

    Good thing the vandals aren’t engineers. Much more creative ways to raise hell are available. I doubt holes were cut with a blow torch. Cutting steel probably requires a welding torch.

    The pipeline companies brag about their leak detection systems, but monitoring them via satellite or aerial inspection allows tens of thousands of gallons to leak before somebody else notices. North Dakota leaks, South Dakota leaks, and leaks all over are never just 50 or 100 gallons, but tens of thousands of gallons. The leak detection systems are not nearly effective enough for pipelines running under rivers and through aquifers.

    This suggests that a prime problem with pipelines is incompetent state regulators who don’t seem to know the difference between a good system and a worthless system or even sufficient observation and no systems to build up funds for cleanups and liability.

  4. Donald Pay 2017-03-22 17:33

    These people who damage the pipeline they will likely get found out. They will be arrested, charged and maybe convicted. They will probably do some time in jail. What happens when pipelines or heap leach pads leak and damage others’ property or the environment that belongs to us all? When do those corporate CEOs get arrested, charged and maybe convicted. How often do they spend a day in jail for all the leaks and spills? Not very often, if ever.

    Somehow we have our priorities for outrage all wrong. We pass laws to stop people who want to peacefully protest, then get surprised when some will turn their outrage to illegality.

    I don’t think people should damage property associated with the pipeline. They should have to answer for their actions. But, I’m going to cut them a little slack until the greedy CEOs of these pipeline companies are perp walked, charged and thrown in jail when their pipelines leak.

  5. grudznick 2017-03-22 17:57

    These vandals are just like the ecological saboteurs from out of state who were over there at Cannonball and they should get what’s coming to them. I expect these “pacifists” will have to kill somebody by drilling through a gas line or lobbing a flaming cannonball into somebody’s office before some people want them thumped on the noggin.

  6. Randolph A. Pudwill 2017-03-22 19:21

    I have mixed feelings on this matter. Certainly one must pursue reasonable avenues of recourse in confronting an unacceptable situation. When one plan of response fails to produce results move on to the next. If the response of reason and environmental responsibility, followed by litigation, both fail then what is the next step to be? There are strong emotions involved here and they are not easily soothed when reasonable courses of action have been depleted. I would agree this action was technologically unsophisticated, but then again remember a defunct WWI plane led to the demise of the Bismarck. The Pipeline Company cannot possibly monitor every linear foot of the pipeline 24 hours a day without incredible expense. Perhaps they will decide the cost is more than the oil is worth. You might well declare me to be naive but I think it’s an interesting approach to a real problem none the less. Being a west river native I like a direct approach to solving problems.

  7. leslie 2017-03-22 22:02

    gee grudz, what if the MAN cut the hole to make the water protectors look bad?

  8. grudznick 2017-03-22 22:23

    You mean the Tribal Police? The MAN? I would not, as a single man, really blame them for wanting to make those environmental whackos who came in and pooped all over their land look bad. I think if the the MAN, those tribal and sovereign officials, did the cutting to make the whackos look bad, I think in this particular case we could look the other way and sort of wink wink do a tit for tat. Don’t you think we should cut these tribal MANs a little slack in this case?

  9. Donald Pay 2017-03-22 22:45

    I think leslie has a point that deserves consideration. also, a lot of times these companies treat their employees so badly that some disgruntled employee ends up doing stuff to get back. Claiming it is some environmentalist is a bit hasty and prejudicial.

    I guess I have a sore sport on this. When Brohm’s heap leach pads leaked and water in monitoring wells started showing evidence of that leakage, Brohm tried to say it was sabotage of the monitoring wells by environmentalists, including my group. And a few people like Grudz were so naive to that they believed them. Well, it turned out it was a leak in what Brohm had claimed was a “state-of-the-art” heap leach pad. They had to get rid of their “state-of-the-art” pad and rebuild the whole thing.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-23 07:19

    True, we do not know who vandalized the equipment. Grumpy employee, random troublemakers, false flaggers… anything is possible.

    But we need to make clear that we do not condone this form of illegal action as protest.

    Interesting Brohm history. That situation was a little different from this one: in their case, the damage was coming from shoddy work on the part of the company. Brohm was offering the more complicated explanation. In the case of the Dakota Access vandalism, the simpler explanation is that the damage was done by people who don’t like the pipeline. Ascribing the damage to someone acting on behalf of the company requires a more complicated explanation.

  11. jerry 2017-03-23 14:55

    Mr. Wiken is correct on not being a blowtorch. Could it be that there was not really any damage at all, just like the fake garbage at Cannonball? When you have to go to a landfill to get a picture of the trash you claim to be on site, that is fake news. Perhaps this is just as fake. I think this is just more of the same crying wolf that corporate America relies on to get its way. If any of this is to be believed, the cutting torches would have already been used on the stockpiled Russian and Indian pipe for the Keystone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.