Oppose the Completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline? Prepare to Spend More on Gas.


This article was originally published in Extra Newsfeed.

Like most travelers, vagabonds, and alternative lifestyle-seekers, I’m constantly on the hunt for the cheapest deal in town: save a bit of money, and that’s a few more dollars for the bar, right?

Nowhere is this the case more than with the price of gas. If you’re like me, and I suspect you are, you feel the compulsive need to fill up your tank at the lowest price point in town. The sinking feeling of buyers regret is never stronger than when you just paid $2.39 a gallon, and pass a gas station advertising fuel for $2.21 — it’s one of the few commodities of the 21st century that you can’t return to the seller.

Americans clamor when gas prices get too high, and economic indicators consistently show that when the price of gas dips, consumers use this extra disposable income to buy more stuff. We take it for granted that we should pay absolute bottom dollar to fill up our cars, and we won’t have it any other way. We like having more disposable income.

Yet there is a conscious disconnect between what it takes for oil companies to bring gasoline to market at the low prices we demand, and the kind of business practices necessary to keep the price of gas low. Much of it involves unsavory business tactics, negotiating contracts with shady foreign governments, and a general disregard for the environmental externalities of oil & gas extraction itself.

Most folks paying attention to the news have seen that Oceti Sakowin, the prayer camp founded by Native Americans in protest of the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), was recently cleared out by authorities. The water protectors, as they called themselves, were protesting the completion of the DAPL, a thousand-mile-long pipeline that would connect oil fields in North Dakota with refineries in Southern Illinois, because it would endanger their drinking water.

Last December, President Obama issued a stay on the completion of the pipeline until a full environmental impact assessment could be completed, a decision which was quickly reversed by the Trump Administration. The pipeline will be built.

This example has relevance. Late last year, Standing Rock made national headlines as the water protectors tried in desperation to halt the completion of the pipeline, attracting attention from everyone from Mark Ruffalo and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to thousands of veterans seeking to shield the water protectors from brutal police tactics. Sure, there were Americans who were apathetic to the cause, but the protests also attracted a large number of activists who weren’t previously associated with any meaningful environmental activism (your correspondent included).

Standing Rock became the basis for a national conversation about our energy dependence: many people protested the completion of the pipeline, but the question remained…how else can we fuel our cars, if not for large-scale projects such as the DAPL? When it comes down to it, infrastructure such as the Dakota Access Pipeline is exactly what keeps the price of gas low. Ignoring the externalities of the project, it’s the cheapest, most efficient way to get crude oil from A to B, and means you can pay $2.21 for a gallon of gas instead of $2.39.

Environmental activism is essential to America’s continued success upon the world stage, but awareness must precede activism. We need to be conscious of the repercussions of our choices, and that includes what it means to keep spending as little as possible on gas. I’m not suggesting that paying top-dollar will make you an eco-friendly consumer, it’s simply that as a society, we must begin to work on the informational disconnect that exists between how we get ourselves around, and what large companies must do to make the requisite resources available to us at the low price we expect.

You can protest the completion of the DAPL and decry the unsavory tactics used by oil & gas companies to Drill Baby, Drill, but you then need to be OK with spending a little bit more on a gallon of gas. Travelers, vagabonds, and alternative lifestyle-seekers are the ones who must lead this change in consciousness: we care about the earth, and preserving nature for generations to come. We must rectify our spending habits with our moral compass, and understand that if we are to advocate for the disruption of the energy market, we will pay more for energy, at least in the short term.

Standing Rock has fallen; the pipeline will be built. With the election of President Trump, that was inevitable, but it’s important that we all learn a lesson from it: whether we like it or not, infrastructure such as the Dakota Access Pipeline is what keeps our economy going. Until there is a reasonable alternative to cheap oil, companies will have every incentive to jeopardize native drinking water in order to bring oil to market in the cheapest way possible: because that’s what us, as the American consumer, demands.