MINOT, N.D. — There is no logical debate over oil pipelines.
We're all using oil, even the most ardent anti-oil activists, and we will be using oil for the foreseeable future. Since pipelines are among the safest ways to transport oil, we should be building them through a rigorous regulatory process that ensures their safety.
It's really as simple as that.
There is a rip-roaring political debate over pipelines between people who think we should stop using oil immediately, whatever the deleterious impacts on our society, and the people who recognize their utility in modern society.
Given how these debates are often portrayed by activists and the news media, you would think our friends and neighbors in the Native American communities were uniformly against pipelines.
It just ain't so.
The question of the continued operation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, is in doubt. Subsequent to allowing the pipeline to be completed and operated, the federal courts have ordered a new environmental review. One federal judge has also issued an injunction shutting the pipeline down while that review, which typically takes more than a year, is completed, but that matter is currently on review.
Under the Trump administration the folks at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the folks in charge of the review process, were asking the court to keep the pipeline open. But now the Corps has a new boss in Joe Biden, and the question is whether or not the Corps will stop backing the pipeline.
Enter the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.
They are an oil-rich tribe, and about half of the oil produced on their lands is transported through DAPL. They're now requesting a "nation-to-nation" meeting with the Biden administration to talk about the status of the pipeline.
"MHA Nation's interests as an oil and gas producing Tribe are unique among other Tribes in our region," a March 23 letter from tribal chairman Mark Fox to the Corps of Engineers reads. "We insist on a one-on-one consultation before any action is taken that would adversely impact the market value of our oil and gas resources which are held in trust on our behalf by the United States. At a minimum, our trustee owes the MHA Nation meaningful consultation that is specific and pre-decisional."
This puts the Biden administration in a tough spot.
The idea that pipelines, generally, and DAPL, specifically, are some inherent affront to the rights and culture of Indigenous peoples is a central part of the political narrative formed against them. Yet here's a tribe pointing out the value of their oil reserves, which are held in trust by the very federal government that is regulating DAPL, are hinging on the survival of that line.
This isn't a magic bullet that will keep DAPL open, but the MHA letter can put a lot of momentum behind the effort to keep it open.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.