The former head of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials was in North Dakota Wednesday to inspect the Dakota Access pipeline. Brigham McCown said he cannot recall a case where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ever withdrew permits that were validly issued, and he believes the manner of that withdrawal should give everyone pause.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Morton County Commission Cody Schulz pushed back on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to further review the pipeline’s crossing at Lake Oahe, saying the federal agency is endangering everyone involved, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe announced a media event at the Oceti Sakowin camp on Friday. The event is to include tours of the camp and interviews with a variety of celebrities and influencers, as well as 25 of the youth water protectors who met with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when the two visited the tribe in 2014. 

The Dakota Access pipeline protest is now about eight months old, and it has been 68 days since the permit to cross Lake Oahe was rescinded. While protest activity appeared relatively quiet Wednesday following Tuesday’s No DAPL National Day of Action, several groups had a lot to say about it Wednesday.

McCown has been acting in an advisory capacity for pipelines and infrastructure for the MAIN Coalition, an industry group that is in favor of completing the Dakota Access pipeline. The 1,172-mile pipeline was proposed to take low-sulfur Bakken crude to Illinois, where it can access American refineries that handle that product. It is estimated that it will take more than 3,000 trucks or rail cars off transportation systems, while lowering the cost of getting it there substantially. 

The pipeline is now 83 percent complete, and in North Dakota, it is complete except for the Lake Oahe crossing, which was proposed to be 92 feet, the equivalent of about nine stories, below the lake.State officials say they are certain the crossing is safe, and that many safeguards would have to fail before it would affect the lake. 

Among the additional safeguards are block valves at either end so the line can be shut off if monitors detect less oil coming out than went in. Sensors on the line can detect a slow leak at less than a 1 percent loss within an hour, and a rupture within 30 seconds. 

“Taking a look at this project and the engineering analysis and I’d like to say based on that review and also visiting with folks on the site today, I am confidant that this pipeline is being put in the ground correctly,” McCown said. “It is above what my former agency required, too. In many cases it is well above minimum safety standards.”

McCown said there is no safer way to move crude oil than via a pipeline. Trucks and railcars can overturn and have explosive accidents. That doesn’t include the emissions trucks and rail cars emit getting the oil to its destination.

“The debate right now has nothing to do with the safety of the line itself or its properties,” he said. “It parallels an existing pipeline and crossing where it already crosses the lake. These infrastructure projects are critical for our country, and they are critical to get done right. In the name of the environment, people are out there undermining environmental safety by opposing these pipelines.”

Schulz, meanwhile, said the scope of federal inaction is putting the health and safety of many people at risk.

“They have not only furthered the uncertainty of the situation and prolonged the outcome, but at the same time have refused law enforcement resources requested by the county and state to deal with a situation that is to a very large degree a federal issue,” he said. “I find it more than a little hypocritical that the USACE and DOJ can stand up in a federal court and argue that all laws, regulations, rules and policies were followed in their permitting of the project and after a federal court agrees with them they backtrack and delay the final easement for more study.”

Schulz cited reports of law enforcement being shot at, having objects like molotov cocktails, rocks and other things thrown at them, as well as fires have been set on public roadways and train tracks, and an attempt at stampeding a herd of buffalo toward law enforcement. Not only that, a brutal North Dakota winter is on the way, Schulz said, and he doesn’t believe those in the camps who are from out of state understand the real dangers facing them.

“North Dakota winters are hard, and further delay by the federal government also prolongs people living in tents and teepees in harsh conditions,” he said. “Our goal is to keep everyone safe, including protesters, and the federal government just continues to make that more difficult.”

The North Dakota Department of Health has activated a low power radio transmitter at 1620 AM to transmit health, safety and other information in the vicinity of the protest camps. It will include topics such as hypothermia, winter travel precautions and where to get influenza vaccines.

“There are many people in the area who have not experienced a North Dakota winter,” said Tim Wiedrich, Emergency Section Chief. “We encourage those individuals to listen in and take the necessary action steps to protect themselves and those around them before a winter weather event or other emergency occurs.”

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