Since a $4 billion, 1,200-mile project designed to

Since 2014, an ever-increasing group of Native
Americans, environmental and climate activists, landowners and more have been
protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, only
recently has the issue become central to the public eye, as tensions have
become tighter. We hear stories of dozens of people getting arrested protesting
the pipeline, while the companies building the pipeline continue work despite
opposition. Considering this, we must consider, is the Dakota Access Pipeline a
net benefit to build? And regardless of whether it is a benefit or not, who is
affected by it and do those affected by it, particularly the Standing Rock
Sioux Tribe, deserve any compensation?

In 2014, the Texas based company, Energy Transfer
Partners began the project of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $4 billion, 1,200-mile
project designed to transport over half a million barrels from North Dakota to
Illinois daily. Building this pipeline would easily connect the oil wells
prevalent in North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Midwest States and the
East Coast (Time). Dakota Access, the subsidiary developing this project,
emphasizes the resulting relative independence that the United States would
have from importing energy from unstable regions, and the estimated economic
boons that this project would bring to the state of North Dakota. With this
project, there would be an increase of over 10,000 construction jobs and increase
in sales and income taxes totaling over $150 million (CNN). Currently, many Americans
different groups are protesting this project. At the center of the opposing
force, however, are the Native from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The plans
for this project involve running the pipeline underneath the Missouri River, the
primary source of drinking water for this tribe, and through a sacred burial
ground for this tribe. Beyond the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, environmental
activists also oppose the construction of this pipeline due to the potential
for additional contribution to man-made climate change.

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The Dakota Access Pipeline to consider the potential
benefit that could arise from its construction. Evaluating this project from
the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis, we have many things to consider. One
of the basic benefits of the pipeline is the jobs that would be created from
construction of the pipeline. From the construction of the Dakota Access
Pipeline, there would be creation of over 10,000 new jobs, that would be able
to boost industries related to the pipeline, such as steel manufacturing and
the manufacturing of other materials. Along with this, there would also be
addition annual tax revenue funneling into the different local and state
economies, particularly during the actual construction of the pipeline. And
from these revenues, the benefits would help to improve schools, roads,
emergency services, and other necessary infrastructures.

The construction of the pipeline would also enable the
United States to less energy dependent. The reduction of the imports of oil
from the Middle East, Russia, etc., would increase the independence of the U.S.
with regards to foreign energy, in turn, boosting nation security and creating
leverage to attempt to improve human rights in leading nations of
oil-production. The increase in oil production that would occur from North
Dakota, through the enablement from the Pipeline, would help to reduce the large
sums of money leaving the United States Economy through the importation of

Lastly, the Dakota Access Pipeline, surprisingly does make
the transportation of oil from North Dakota to Illinois safer, cost-efficient,
and environmentally friendly, particularly if there oil were to be transported
without the pipeline. In comparison to road and rail transportation of oil,
pipelines result in fewer accidents regarding the oil, and fewer incidences
regarding personal injuries. Cost-wise, pipelines are reported to reduce cost
of transportation by $5 to $10 per barrel, and has a significantly lower carbon
footprint than transportation by toad or railroads.

Considering the cons of this project, the Dakota
Access Pipeline has the potential to contaminate the primary water supply for
the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and millions of people downstream. Originally,
the pipeline was planned to cross the Missouri river north of the North
Dakota’s capital, however, to account for concerns that a break or leak in the
pipeline would contaminate the city’s water supply, the pipeline was rerouted
south of the city, underneath Lake Oahe, a half of a mile away from the
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation, where it now threatens the water for
millions of other people. The Pipeline is also being constructed on sacred land
guaranteed to the Sioux by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which entitles the
Sioux to have been consulted prior to the approval of the Dakota Access
Pipeline. Currently, the project has already irreparably damages sacred grounds
of the Sioux. However, with the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline,
climate change would be significantly worsened due to the hundreds of thousands
of gallons of crude oil being pumped daily to the markets across the United States.
The pipeline would also make it harder to make the switch to more sources of
green energy, and make it more cost-efficient and suitable to stay with fossil

In this cost-benefit analysis, we consider several
pros and cons of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, to conclude
regarding the whether the pipeline should or should not be built, the decision
ultimately depends on what the individual decides is more important or more
consequential. Ultimately, particularly since the pipeline is already mostly
constructed, it would be considered more moral to allow the completion of the
pipeline, since there are clear benefits to the completion of the project,
including the local boon to the economy and jobs created, rather than allowing
what has been completed to go to waste. Particularly since, it can be assumed
that the vast reserves of fossil fuels will inevitably be mined and used. It becomes
more advantageous to the people affected by the construction of the pipeline,
the environment and the companies involved to complete construction and use the

Evaluating the same problem of the potential benefit
versus consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline through John Rawls’ Theory of
Justice, we come to the same decision as through the cost-benefit analysis.
Rawls’ Theory of Justice aims to identify the principles that would create a just
and moral society. The first principle claims that each person has the right to
have as much liberty as possible that is still compatible with every person
having the same liberty. The second principle claims that the most just and
moral social and economic positions are those that are advantageous to everyone
and open to all to take advantage of.

Evaluating the Dakota Access Pipeline through Rawls’
second principle claiming that the most just and moral decisions are those that
benefit everyone, we can look at the potential benefits of the Dakota Access
Pipeline. As mentioned earlier, with the construction of the pipeline, there is
the development of new jobs, local increase of small town business during the
actual construction, annual property tax revenue beginning after the completion
of the project, higher demand of industries that have been struggling, such as
steel manufacturing. There is also the added benefit of the increased income to
the states involved and the decrease of money leaving the United States Economy
for foreign energy, all of which benefit several different groups of people. However,
many of these benefits are temporary and do not have a significant difference
the lives of that many people. The negative effect that will be caused on one
group of people, however is significant.

The Dakota Access Pipeline runs through the territory
of one of the statistically poorest regions in the country. According to
statistics from Time, 40% of the population living on the Reservation is below
the federal poverty line and on average, the unemployment is at 86%. While
there are many economic benefits to the construction of the pipeline, the
members of the Standing Rock Sioux are not the recipients. During the initial
construction of the pipeline, there would be an increase in business as workers
pass through, however, these increases are short lived and would not benefit
the Sioux, but rather the small energy towns that dot the path of the path of
the pipeline. When the construction is complete, it only be necessary to have a
few workers, however, then we start to build property tax revenues, an estimated
$55 million per year. However, the money would be split between four states,
North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, with no monetary compensation
ending with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, despite the pipeline crossing their

For the Standing Rock Sioux, the pipeline is another
economic punch that they will have to overcome, however, the Sioux opposition
goes beyond the economic. First, the Sioux are dependent on the Missouri River
for drinking water, as many members of the Tribe are without running water.
With the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River, the risk of
crude oil contamination of the water is a potential danger to public health. A
compromise proposed by Energy Transfer Partners promises to continuously
monitor the underground pipeline. According to the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, the pipeline is environmentally safe and does not pose a significant
threat to the Missouri River, particularly with the safety features, such as
monitoring systems, shut-off valves, etc., to minimize risk. However, this
assessment of the risk was released without the consideration of the statement
from the Environmental Protection Agency, challenging the idea that these
monitoring systems would be sufficient for preventing contamination of the
water source in the event of an actual problem occurring.

Through the Rawls’ perspective, we reach a different
conclusion than from the cost-benefit analysis. Weighing the lack of short,
temporary benefits that would be present from the construction of the project
against the long-term negative consequences that would hurt the Standing Rock
Sioux Tribe, the completion and usage of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project
would be the immoral choice, by the Rawls principle of morality and justice.
However, as mentioned earlier, it seems probable that this project will be
completed. And thus, we now to have to consider whether it is necessary to
compensate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the other people dependent on Lake
Oahe for the risk to their primary water supply, and the Sioux also for the
destruction of their sacred cultural lands.

The most obvious compensation that could be offered to
the Sioux as well as the others dependent on Lake Oahe would be monetary
compensation, particularly for the risk of contamination of their water. However,
we also must look at the effects that the compensation could have. As described
by Samuel Bowles, in The Moral Economy:
Why Good Incentives are No Substitute for Good Citizens, incentives, or in
this case, compensation, can have a counterproductive effect on a goal being
achieved. Consider the case that monetary compensation is given to those that
would be affected by the potential contamination of Lake Oahe by the Dakota
Access Pipeline. In this case, also assume that the monetary compensation would
be increased substantially to accommodate costs of obtaining clean water if
Lake Oahe was contaminated by break or spill in the pipeline. In some cases, it
might begin to look like a form of incentive to allow the contamination of the
lake, despite the catastrophic ecological and environmental damages that have
taken place.

Having evaluated the construction of the Dakota Access
Pipeline through different moral lenses, we have come out to different answers.
By the cost-benefit analysis, it could seem to work out that the construction
of the pipeline is the best option, however, by the Rawls’s principle, the most
moral and just option would be to abandon the project. The halting of this
project, while temporarily hurting the economy of local communities and states ainvolved,
material manufacturers, and workers, would allow the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
and other groups dependent on the Missouri River to have continued, safe access
to clean water. Even continuation with the construction of the Dakota Access
Pipeline Project and compensation for the risk to those involved brings its own
risks as well as losses for the parties in charge of providing the
compensation. Hopefully, the lack of a pipeline and easy transport of crude oil
to other distributors would also encourage a switch from fossil fuels to more
green energy, of which the benefits are plentiful, including the creating of
many more jobs, environmental benefits and sustainability. To sum it up, the
Dakota Access Pipeline is not worth the devastating consequences that its
construction would imply. At least, according to me and John Rawls.