The Dakota Access Pipeline

Bryan McLellan
December 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: The DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) being installed between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The United States has historically had a dependence on petroleum for its energy needs. Out of these large energy needs have come a variety of different solutions in order to provide petroleum to Americans. One of these solutions for the United States of America's petroleum needs has been the Dakota Access Pipeline, shown in Fig. 1. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile pipeline that carries North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois. [1] While this pipeline allows for the distribution of oil, it is not as simple a decision as it seems to simply build and operate it.

The Pipeline

The building of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.7 billion dollar project. [1] The purpose of the Dakota Access Pipeline is to "direct oil from North Dakota to refining plants in more distant places in a more efficient manner both economically and time wise". [2] It seems that this would be achieved because the Dakota Access Pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil per day. [1] This oil would then be distributed from its location in Illinois to markets all over the country.


The completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline has been fought by several sources. As of June of 2017, the pipeline is still awaiting judgement in a federal court in Washington D.C. regarding its environmental concerns. [2] The intention behind this order was the consider the potential impact of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights and environmental justice.

In particular, the Army's approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline project drew outrage from several groups including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Their reservation in North Dakota stands less than one mile from the pipeline route. [1] They had objected to the project because the path runs so close to sources of drinking water and that any spill could spoil the drinking water. Many members also said that the pipeline would run through sacred ancestral lands. The protest camp of about four hundred people had an immediate outcry to the decision as well. [1]


As of June 9, 2017 oil is running through the Dakota Access Pipeline. It runs more than 1,800 miles and has a projected goal of transporting 520,000 barrels of oil per day. [3] Meanwhile, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claims that just because there is not a current leak does not prevent a leak from occurring in the future. While legal action has been taken by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, so far the judge in the case has repeatedly ruled that the U.S. government has followed all of the right procedures to comply with the law. [3]

© Bryan McLellan. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Turkewitz, "Army Approves Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline," New York Times, 17 Feb 17.

[2] S. Gallagher, "Dakota Access Pipeline," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2016.

[3] R. Meyer, "Oil Is Flowing Through the Dakota Access Pipeline ," The Atlantic, 9 Jun 17.