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Port: What if pipeline companies behaved like their political enemies?

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A protester pours gasoline on a fire blocking North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Protesters to the Dakota Access Pipeline were attempting to keep law enforcement officers from pushing them off the road and out of their camp. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MINOT, N.D. -- Earlier this week, there was a lot of heavy breathing in the news media over a statement from Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, which made it seem like they might defy a court order to shut the line down.

That lasted for a hot minute. After the reports, ETP clarified that they weren't going rogue . They are operating as normal as they seek an appeal of the court's decision.

Still, the situation got me thinking.

What would happen if ETP adopted the tactics of its political enemies?

What if the company did choose an act of civil disobedience, continuing to operate their pipeline in protest of a byzantine regulatory environment and laws which allow anyone with the filing fee for a lawsuit to waylay energy infrastructure projects for years?


During the 2016-17 protests against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a network of left-wing groups encouraged thousands from across the country and the world to travel to North Dakota and obstruct construction. Protesters blocked highways. They vandalized construction equipment and threatened pipeline workers. They traveled to nearby communities, such as Bismarck and Mandan, where they perpetrated more vandalism and violence.

Ultimately the protesters departed, leaving millions of pounds of garbage and human waste left behind .

There were legal consequences for this. Many were arrested during the demonstrations. Yet, for the most part, these activities were reported in the news media -- by national news outlets, in particular -- in adoring tones. The further we get from those protests, the more their ugly reality has been blurred by sympathetic academics, reporters and authors who prefer a version of the story that's far more romantic than a bunch of filthy anarchists setting bulldozers on fire.

This is how NPR described the 2016 protests in a recent report : "The pipeline was the focus of Native American-led protests that were met with police violence four years ago."

"Police violence."

That's not even remotely accurate, but it is the narrative many in the news media prefer.

Even at the time, those who covered the DAPL protests treated the protesters as the protagonists and ETP/law enforcement as the antagonists. The way many (most?) journalists see it, unlawful tactics are OK for anti-pipeline activists because their cause is pure.

And when the script flipped, and it seemed like maybe it was going to be ETP engaging in some political protest by way of lawbreaking?


Surprise! The pipeline company was still the bad guy because a generation raised on Captain Planet cartoons knows that the oil industry is always the black hat.

I'm glad ETP is following the court order, as much as I disagree with it. Pipeline companies should follow the law.

But then, so should anti-pipeline protesters.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com .

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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