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Pipeline delay perpetuates rumor mill

The decision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline serves no one well. The decision does nothing but provide false hope to the Standing Rock Sioux, increases community polarization and perpetuates a destructive rumor mill.

The handwriting is clearly on the wall. The election of a pro-energy administration in Washington will result in a new mandate to the Corps of Engineers. No matter how we may feel about this reality, it will not go away.

President-elect Donald Trump is already exercising the prerogatives of the presidency so he may well give the Corps notice before he actually takes office. He may have already done so.

Facing the certainty of a new decision in Washington, the Standing Rock Sioux would benefit from a peaceable settlement with Energy Transfer Partners as soon as possible. With each passing day, Dakota Access has a declining interest in offering a peace pipe. To continue the standoff until Jan. 20 will only make the outcome less palatable for everyone.  

A growing rumor mill has run amuck, poisoning the well with unsubstantiated allegations. Supporters of the pipeline are now demonizing prominent figures to support their case.

Because the BNSF railroad stands to lose millions of dollars when the pipeline starts operating, Warren Buffet, a major stockholder, is being accused of mischief by people who know nothing about Buffet’s role in management.

The rumor is that the BNSF is paying protesters $1,000 to come to North Dakota and is picking up the tab for all sorts of sinister activities. Gullible users of the social media are being fed a steady diet of these misrepresentations to stoke ill will.  

Because the rumor suggests a conspiracy, the attorney general would serve the state well if he inaugurated a fact-finding investigation to determine the truth of the matter. The rumors are erosive and should be proven or dismissed with facts.

Even though BNSF stands to lose millions, the rumor is difficult to believe because a conspiracy involving hundreds of protesters would quickly become known, and BNSF would lose the high ground if exposed. Surely, the railroad knows that the oil industry is the darling of the state’s economy.

Oil has brought immense benefits to communities; enriched thousands of holders of mineral rights; enabled the Legislature to cut taxes; and let the world know that North Dakota is on the map big time. The oil industry has made North Dakota proud.  

Because North Dakota is infatuated with the oil industry, BNSF cannot afford to finance conspiracies to obstruct something as critical to the industry as the pipeline.       

If investigation proves that BNSF has been foolish enough to engage in this conspiracy, the company will have to answer to the Legislature for its behavior. After all, BNSF is a major property holder subject to the state’s property tax laws, making the company vulnerable if a conspiracy is discovered.

The Dakota Access controversy has resulted from a series of missteps. The Standing Rock Council should have appeared at the formal hearings that led to the permitting. The permitting agencies should have realized that a pipeline close to the reservation would be sensitive, especially when the tribe voiced objections two years ago.              

Dakota Access should have kept in closer touch with the tribal council; the governor should have recognized the need for negotiations months ago. State officialdom has been mortified.

In summary, we have a lot of guilt by omission. There is no place to go from here. It looks like this confrontation will result in a bitter end that will linger for decades.

Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director.

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