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CEO behind Dakota Access to protesters: ‘We’re building the pipeline’

November 16, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
The struggle over the Dakota Access Pipeline has intensified, as more protesters have joined the standoff and the company building the pipeline filed suit to get its last permit issued. Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, joins William Brangham to defend the project and insist it’s going forward.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The struggle over the Dakota Access oil pipeline intensified this week, with protesters in a number of cities joining the Native tribes who are opposed to the project.

Meanwhile, the company building the pipeline is pushing back, filing suit in federal court yesterday to get its last permit issued.

William Brangham continues his reporting on this legal and environmental standoff.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline have spread nationwide this week. Opponents say the last remaining section of the pipeline would threaten the drinking water and cultural lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

MAN: They’re threatening millions of people in the entire region and threaten ultimately the climate of the entire planet.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The 1,200-mile-long pipeline would carry 500,000 gallons of crude oil every day from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

But, since August, hundreds, sometimes thousands of members of various Indian tribes and nations have gathered at a camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to try to stop construction. They’re drawing support from outside figures as well, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who visited yesterday.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., President, Waterkeeper Alliance: I think they have a lot of courage. I think they’re standing up for America, that they’re standing up in the face of a bully.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Elsewhere, dozens of people were arrested yesterday near Mandan, North Dakota, for blocking railway tracks near a pipeline work site.

Meanwhile, a court fight looms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted construction permits back in July, but, two months later, stopped work and called for further review. And then, on Monday, the Corps announced a further delay.

Now the pipeline builder, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is asking a federal judge to give the remaining construction the go-ahead. In a statement Tuesday, the company decried what it called the Obama administration’s “political interference” and “its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

For more on this ongoing fight, I’m joined now by Kelcy Warren. He’s the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that owns and is building the Dakota Access pipeline.

Mr. Warren, thank you very much for being here.

KELCY WARREN, CEO, Energy Transfer Partners: Thank you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk about the overarching fight that is going on here.

As you well know, the Standing Rock Tribe has two principal arguments. One, the construction of this pipeline is going to damage ancestral sites of theirs, and, two, if the pipeline is built and it goes under the Missouri River, that it is going to, if it were to leak, potentially contaminate their drinking water.

And I wonder what your response to those concerns are.

KELCY WARREN: Yes.

Well, first of all, I think this is well-known by now. We’re not on any Indian property at all, no Native American property. We’re on private lands. That’s number one.

Number two, this pipeline is new steel pipe. We’re boring underneath Lake Oahe. It’s going to go 90 feet to 150 feet below the lake’s surface. It’s thick wall pipe, extra thick, by the way, more so than just the normal pipe that we lay.

Also, on each side of the lake, there’s automated valves that, if in the very, very unlikely situation there were to be a leak, our control room shuts down the pipe, encapsulates that small section that could be in peril.

So, that’s that’s just not going to happen. Number one, we’re not going to have a leak. I can’t promise that, of course, but that — no one would get on airplanes if they thought they were going to crash.

And, number two, there is no way there would be any crude contaminate their water supply. They’re 70 miles downstream.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the things that really seems to irk the people out there at the Standing Rock Tribe is that the pipeline was originally scheduled and slotted to go north, just north of Bismarck.

And after there were concerns about endangering the water supply there, the pipeline was rerouted south next to the Standing Rock Tribe. And their belief is, why were the concerns of Bismarck residents given greater weight than the concerns that we have?

KELCY WARREN: Well, they certainly were not by Energy Transfer Partners. We’re vulnerable to these routings, too.

The Army Corps of Engineers weighs in heavily. They asked for input from all concerned. They get that input. And then they suggest to us what deviation in the route should be taken.

Keep in mind, Energy Transfer, we’re laying a pipeline to have minimal impact to all people concerned, and with great input from our government. So, this route, it wasn’t just something that Energy Transfer said, hey, let’s build it here. This was after great consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers, the offering up for consultation with also the Standing Rock Sioux, which they didn’t choose to do.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You say that it’s very unlikely or very rare that this pipeline might rupture, but some companies’ pipelines seem to spill more than others.

And your subsidiary Sunoco Logistics has a pretty poor track record when it comes to leaks. According to analysis done by Reuters, Sunoco Logistics spills more crude than any of its competitors, 200 oil leaks in the last six years.

Doesn’t that safety record indicate that the concerns of the Standing Rock Tribe ought to be listened to?

KELCY WARREN: I disagree with that statistic about Sunoco Logistics.

But everybody should be concerned about that. But keep in mind there’s a difference here. This is a body of water. This is a pipe that’s been designed specifically to fit into a bore underneath the riverbed. This is very thick wall pipe. It’s brand-new steel.

Any reports they’re talking about with Sunoco, Sunoco is a 100-plus-year-old company. And there’s some very, very old pipe in our…

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But we have seen ruptures in very recent, newly built pipes.

Your Permian Express pipeline in Texas was a brand-new pipe. It spilled 8,000 barrels, I believe. Keystone One, again, a very new pipeline, spilled 14 times in its first year. It just seems like the concerns of the Standing Rock Tribe are not based on nothing.

KELCY WARREN: You know, look, again, like I said, everybody should be concerned about spilling oil on the ground or gasoline or any hydrocarbon or any contaminant, for that matter.

Energy Transfer is doing the very best we can. We’re complying with all the laws, all the rules, and we’re over-designing. This pipeline is being built to safety standards that far exceed what the government requires us to do. And I just think the likelihood of a spill into Lake Oahe is just extremely remote.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What about the other concern that the tribe brings up, that the construction of this pipeline is damaging sacred sites of theirs, that your bulldozers have already damaged it there?

They also are very upset with the fact that your company apparently discovered historical artifacts and dragged your feet, according to them, in reporting it to authorities.

KELCY WARREN: Those are just lies. They’re complete lies.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No basis in fact?

KELCY WARREN: No, not at all.

Let’s go to the real facts. The facts are, we worked with the state of North Dakota, we worked with the federal government to assure us that we were not disturbing any historical sites. We hired archaeologists.

The state of North Dakota concluded that — the Army Corps of Engineers concluded we have not damaged any historical sites.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last question for you. President Trump, president-elect Trump is — I know he holds some stock in your company, reportedly, and I know you’re a big supporter of his.

Do you think, when he becomes president, that he will simply authorize the construction of this pipeline?

KELCY WARREN: Well, I don’t think — I don’t think a president actually authorizes an easement.

I think he allows the rules, procedures and laws.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But you think it will happen when he takes over?

KELCY WARREN: I do, yes.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what happens to the protesters at that point? I mean, the ones that I have spoken to said that they are not going anywhere and that they’re building shelters for the winter and they’re going to wait this out.

KELCY WARREN: The people of the state of North Dakota are generally, generally wonderful people, law-abiding, nonviolent people. And they’re trying to go about their lives.

This has been such a disruption to that state. This is not a peaceful protest. So, if they want to stick around and continue to do what they’re doing, great, but we’re building the pipeline.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, thanks very much for talking with us.

KELCY WARREN: Thank you, sir.

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