‘Keep It in the Ground’ Anti-Energy Extremists Attack Oil Pipelines

Oct 12, 2016 - 3:30pm

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Anti-energy vandals cut a chain on an oil pipeline valve.
Energy opponents cut a chain on an oil pipeline valve near Clearbrook, Minn.

Inspired by aggressive (and sometimes violent) protests in North Dakota over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, anti-energy, “Keep it in the ground” radicals launched a coordinated attack on five oil pipelines:

Activists in four states were arrested after they cut padlocks and chains and entered remote flow stations to turn off valves in an attempt to stop crude moving through lines that carry as much as 15 percent of daily U.S. oil consumption. The group posted videos online showing the early morning raids.

Protest group Climate Direct Action said the move was in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has protested the construction of a separate $3.7 billion pipeline carrying oil from North Dakota to the U.S. Gulf Coast over fears of potential damage to sacred land and water supplies.

It’s bad enough to oppose using oil and natural gas to power our economy, but cutting through fences, trampling on private property, and putting workers and citizens in danger is unacceptable.

What's more, tampering with high-pressure oil pipelines could damage the environment saboteurs claim they want to protect:

Several pipeline operators and safety experts said shutting off valves was extremely dangerous and that activists underestimated the risks.

Pipelines can be heavily pressurized depending on length and altitude variation, and shutting off a valve could cause ruptures that are "catastrophic" for the environment, Paul Tullis of Tullis Engineering Consultants said.

"It's like a freight train," he said of the momentum with which the oil moves. "If these people are hydraulic engineers, they might be able to do this safely."

Activists often do not fully know what they are doing, even if they think they do, Tullis said.

Protesters said they spent months studying how to safely shut the valves. The ability for them to access the proprietary information necessary to shut a line safely was questioned by experts.

Either way, pipeline specialists said it was lucky there were no leaks on Tuesday. Once the valves are shut, pressure can quickly build up inside pipelines that operate under as much as 1,000 pounds (450 kg) per square inch.

Protesters were taking a chance that a weak spot in a line would not explode, and that employees in operations hubs would spring into action after hearing alarms.

These attacks look similar to an attack on a Canadian oil pipeline in December 2015. To get a sense of how dangerous this was, here’s a portion of the eyewitness account of that attack [emphasis mine]:

6:45 a.m. Jean Leger calls Enbridge emergency number and tells them that he is closing the valve. This is filmed by a co-conspirator journalist. The whole valve and the ground starts vibrating. To avoid a potential explosion, the valve is opened slightly. The ground continues to vibrate, and sound of pressurized flow is audible.

Approx. 9:00 – Activists unlock and the valve is firmly closed. The vibration reaches a fever pitch, but once the valve is wrenched as far as humanly possible to the right, the vibration stops altogether. Activists lock back onto the valve.


At one point when law enforcement was “attempting to handcuff one of the activists locked to the valve, another valve that is part of the infrastructure sprays oils all over the place.”

Note the irony of an oil spill caused by people violently opposed to oil. This is what happens when people reading stuff on the internet think they can safely shut off a pipeline. 

At this rate, someone will get hurt.

"On the wrong pipeline, in the wrong place (actions like this) could kill people,” pipeline expert, Richard Kuprewicz, cautioned Reuters.

What's more, these attacks (under the guise of protests) ignores the importance of pipelines and other pieces of energy infrastructure to a modern economy. We need to be able to move energy from where it’s produced to where families and businesses use it, as Matt Koch of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy explains:

Many areas in the U.S. are already missing out on the full benefits of our energy revolution because it has been difficult to move our energy from where it is produced to where it is needed.

The fierce resistance and abuse of the regulatory processes by those who want to “keep it in the ground” is incredibly shortsighted.


However, environmentalists continue to battle pipeline and transmission line construction, recently claiming victory as projects that would bring gas from Pennsylvania to the northeast (Constitution Pipeline; Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline) were abandoned after fierce opposition from environmentalists and long regulatory delays. Now, protests have become violent while trying to delay construction of the important Dakota Access oil pipeline project. Of course, there is also the infamous denial of Keystone XL by the Obama Administration.

America is blessed with tremendous supplies of all forms of energy, the ingenuity and ability to develop technology to utilize it more cleanly and efficiently, and the means to transport it safely and with little risk as possible. Still, if pipelines and transmission lines can’t get built to move energy supplies to where they are needed, disparities will continue to grow between regions - and all the benefits to consumers, communities, and our economy will be lost.

I'd add that without the ability to effectively transport energy, our economy will grind to a halt—which is what some of extremists want.

Just like the Dakota Access Pipeline protestors, the “Keep it in the ground” folks who took part in these attacks have shown that it's not about peaceful, reasonable debate or adequate public consultation; it’s about dictating the energy policy changes they demand by any means necessary.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.