PC op ed by Jane Yoder-Short 6-1-15

Moral, ethical issues with Bakken Pipeline

“A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.” — Wendell Berry What does it cost to buy your moral allegiance? Corporations can tempt us with good-sounding proposals.

When a representative from Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, offered Hughie Tweedy “a $1,200 teenage prostitute,” he didn’t budge. Tweedy had repeatedly said he did not wish to have a pipeline built through his property.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is looking into Tweedy’s allegations. His story reminds us that corporations can have distasteful moral flavors.

Tweedy’s story also reminds Iowans that Energy Transfer Partners is asking for our moral yes to build the 1,134-mile Bakken Pipeline. It will stretch from the oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. It will pass through 18 Iowa counties.

Oil production in North Dakota now exceeds 1 million barrels per day through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The corporation wants a way to move oil faster and supposedly safer.

It doesn’t take most of us long to conclude that offering prostitutes is not good corporate morality. What takes a little more thinking is whether the pipeline itself crosses ethical lines. What are the moral questions surrounding the Bakken Pipeline?

Do we know who is benefiting?

Amid all the talk of Iowa jobs and energy independence, let’s face it, it is the corporation that will benefit. Too often economic benefits end up in a few pockets. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren has an estimated wealth of $7 billion.

­Do we think about the real price of fossil fuel consumption?

As taxpayers, we subsidize oil companies. We not only pay for discounts on diesel and other fuels, we pay the cost of traffic congestion and accidents, the cost of air pollution and income lost because of ill health. We pay for the effects of climate change.

According to the International Monetary Fund, fossil fuel global subsidies will reach $5.3 trillion in 2015. That is $10 million a minute.

Nicholas Stern, a climate economist at the London School of Economics, says, “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are.”

Fossil fuel energy costs remain well below their true price. If fossil fuels would pay their real costs, renewable energies could easily compete. Are we propping up an old system that we need to let die instead of encouraging pipeline construction? Imagine how our world would change if we started using $10 million a minute for clean renewable energy.

­ Do we care about the environment and our land?

The pipeline company is asking for a 150-foot-wide right of way during construction and then a 50-foot easement when it is complete. That is more than 20,600 acres. That is a lot of trees and land.

Tweedy has decided his land is valuable. He told his pipeline representative that he wouldn’t sell him one blade of grass for $1 million.

Although some argue that pipelines are safer, they are not without risks. According to data compiled by the International Energy Agency, U.S. pipelines spilled three times as much crude oil as trains over an eight year period. Although trains spills are more frequent, pipeline spills tend to be bigger.

Most of us find the offer of women in exchange for signing a pipeline agreement morally repulsive. Is it time to also find our obsessive oil consumption and our continued subsiding of it offensive? Let’s not be fooled by corporations and their money piles.

Writers’ Group member Jane Yoder-Short lives and writes in Kalona.

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