Fracking was never popular among environmentalists, but recent moves by Energy Transfer work hard at achieving record-setting antagonism. Even if the battle is won, the list of scorned will be impressive and the company will at the very least take a serious loss in optics, if not some real damage to its credibility.
The Texas-based midstream oil and gas giant got approval from the Army Corps of Engineers back in July to build a 1,172 mile fracked gas pipeline from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. Since August, a protest by the Standing Rock Sioux, joined by environmentalists, has gained momentum over claims that a rupture of the pipeline as it passes under Lake Oahe just north of reservation boundaries would threaten drinking water not only for the American Indian nation but also for millions who live downstream.
The issue has provoked protests in major American cities and attracted celebrity supporters from Shailene Woodley to Mark Ruffalo. After a recent review, the company now needs one final easement from the Corps to complete construction, the passages under the lake. This impending climax is where the going has turned ever more harsh.
Despite requests by the government to voluntarily halt construction, Energy Transfer Partners has plowed forward, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, who not only has vowed to remove barriers to fossil fuel extraction but also has personal investments in the pipeline project.
On Monday, the Corps announced that further analysis was needed granting the easement under Lake Oahe. The same day Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit demanding a go ahead.
Critics have called recent moves desperation as the delay is costing the company millions. On Tuesday, CEO Kelcy Warren appeared on PBS to defend the pipeline but appeared ill-prepared to deal with questions regarding the dismal safety record of sibling company Sunoco Logistics, also involved in the project.
Until now losses have been simply in the eyes of those who support the American Indian-led opposition, but public pressure has grown teeth. DNB, Norway’s largest bank, announced today its sale of assets in the pipeline which accounts for 10 percent of funding after Greenpeace garnered a 120,000 signature petition opposing the investment.
While casual observers have tended to see protests as transient obstacles, this past week proves that analysis wrong. Energy Transfer Partner’s assumption of inevitability has led to reckless behavior that may boomerang back and hit the company hard.