OUR OPINION: A blooming good outcome for Oakville Prairie
Robert Seabloom sounded disheartened in February when he testified against the routing of the Sandpiper oil pipeline through UND's Oakville Prairie. "It is also ironic to me that the project be named after a shorebird, of all things!" the retired...
Robert Seabloom sounded disheartened in February when he testified against the routing of the Sandpiper oil pipeline through UND’s Oakville Prairie.
“It is also ironic to me that the project be named after a shorebird, of all things!” the retired UND wildlife-biology professor told the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
“If they could speak for themselves, it’s doubtful that our various sandpipers would approve.”
But lo and behold, a little bird must have spoken to Enbridge Energy, because the company agreed to reroute its Bakken crude-oil pipeline after all.
And in June, the Public Service Commission approved the new route, which skirts the Oakville Prairie.
Congratulations to all for this example of “the system” working as it should:
- To Enbridge, for paying close attention to and accommodating Seabloom and others’ concerns.
- To the Public Service Commission, for soliciting input in a way that drew informed responses.
- And to Seabloom and UND Vice President Phyllis Johnson, among others, who were bold enough to challenge the pipeline’s original routing but moderate enough to accept that the pipeline will and likely should be built.
“For public hearings to be meaningful, regulators have to respond when trusted authorities raise serious concerns,” a Herald editorial on this issue in February suggested.
In this case, regulators and the company alike responded, proving that the public hearings were not just meaningful but vital. That was smart decision-making, and the rerouting leaves North Dakota better off.
Neither Enbridge nor the PSC had to listen, of course. When making routing decisions, regulators and companies often deny environmental and/or historic-preservation requests.
But Seabloom and Johnson had an especially good case, and they made it especially well. The Oakville Prairie, as they explained, has never been plowed. It’s one of the last remnants of the prairie whose tall grasses used to sway over the entire Red River Valley, and whose roots reach down 20 or 30 feet.
Digging a pipeline ditch across that untouched landscape would have scoured its value.
Furthermore, “the state of North Dakota has designated 100 animal Species of Conservation Priority, based primarily on declining populations and diminishing habitat,” Seabloom pointed out.
“Thirty of the 100 listed species are known to breed at Oakville Prairie.”
No wonder scientists from American Ornithologists Union, Ecological Society of America, Midwest Prairie Conference, American Society of Mammalogists and Great Plains Natural Science Society have visited the prairie during conferences at UND, Seabloom noted.
As mentioned, prairie advocates didn’t ask that the pipeline project be shut down. On the contrary, UND worked with Enbridge to find an acceptable new route.
That mattered, and the net result is a big win for the company, the university and the state. Not to mention the hawks, grouse, Sprague’s pipits and other birds of the prairie, whose nesting and resting the Sandpiper pipeline will leave undisturbed.