Port: Endless pipeline fights make a mockery of the rule of law

About 230 miles worth of green metal pipe, stored by TransCanada for its stalled Keystone XL pipeline, gathers snow, dust and tumbleweeds in a laydown yard where it's been stored near Gascoyne since 2011. Lauren Donovan / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. -- Pipelines are legal in the United States of America.

It sometimes doesn't seem that way.

On Wednesday, we got the news that a federal judge has created yet another delay in the decade-long fight to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which has now spanned three presidential administrations.

We've been having this debate since Bush the Younger was President. What issue related to the pipeline could be left unexplored at this point?

The legal strategy of the left-wing activists who file endless lawsuits against pipelines is the throw-mud-until-something-sticks approach.


It's been effective. Time and again, they can convince a judge to buy in, at least for a time, to some Byzantine theory, thus creating yet another delay.

The delays are always overcome. Because, again, pipelines are legal.

They're regulated, sure. At both the state and federal levels, our policymakers have adopted a process through which proposed projects like pipelines are vetted and approved.

That process is predicated on the idea that pipelines are needed since they transport products like oil and gas, which every single one of us uses every single day, and should be allowed once they meet the requirements of the law.

Those who file the endless lawsuits against these projects -- groups and activists who also organize (or at least condone) violence and protests aimed at blocking construction -- are using law intended to allow the safe and responsible development of pipelines to stop them from ever being built.

We're making a mockery of the rule of law.

"Infrastructure development, like Keystone XL, requires regulatory certainty and a straightforward permitting process that ensures these investments, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, are able to proceed with construction and safely operate once completed," Craig Stevens, spokesman for Grow America's Infrastructure Now, said in a release reacting to this most recent delay of the pipeline.

GAIN is a pro-pipeline activist group, and Stevens is not exactly without bias when it comes to the issue of building pipelines, but the point is well-made.


I'm all for a rigorous regulatory process for pipelines. Those projects should be built responsibly. When they're not, the consequences are dire.

But that process should have a finish line. There should be a point at which the prerequisites are satisfied, and construction can begin.

As it stands, the political activists have found a way to use the courts to move the finish line every time a project like Keystone XL gets close to crossing it.

Heck, if we look at the Dakota Access Pipeline situation, the activists have found a way to move the finish line even after it's crossed. DAPL has been operating for years now, but recently a federal judge ordered more regulatory scrutiny of the project and is in the process of considering motions to shut the line down.

Again, we're all using the product transported in these pipelines, but who is going to continue investing in their construction (and even maintenance, if you consider the embattled Line 3 Replacement project in Minnesota ) if there isn't a reliable and predictable regulatory and legal process for their construction?

"Keystone XL was permitted after years of careful review and received the necessary approval from both the U.S. Army Corps and State Department. But the pipeline's decade-long permitting battle has energy developers thinking twice before investing in new energy infrastructure projects," Stevens said in his statement.

He's right.

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

Opinion by Rob Port
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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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