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RON NESS: Protests are impeding pipeline progress, safety

BISMARCK--Oil and gas development has led to a revitalization of rural North Dakota, bringing new businesses to the region, more jobs and employees and more families. Although the economic benefits continue to be appreciated, this rapid growth al...

BISMARCK-Oil and gas development has led to a revitalization of rural North Dakota, bringing new businesses to the region, more jobs and employees and more families. Although the economic benefits continue to be appreciated, this rapid growth also led to a strain on our state's aging infrastructure as more cars and semis crowded highways, and oil tankers took to the rails.

The industry heard these concerns loud and clear. The only way to reduce truck traffic and railway congestion as well as address the challenge of flaring was to build pipelines.

Since then, billions of dollars have been spent to develop this critical infrastructure.

Consequently, we've seen a huge reduction in truck traffic, in crude being moved by rail and in flared gas. Today, more than 3 million barrels of fluid are moved safely each day in North Dakota with very few failures.

Nationally, there are more than 190,000 miles of petroleum pipelines traversing the United States, and 99.99 percent of the product reaches its destination safely.

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Many of us aren't even aware that every year, more than 1.2 billion barrels of oil safely are being transported beneath our feet. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, that is "due to the strong safety record of pipelines and the fact that most of them are located underground, [which] protects them from damage and helps protect our communities as well."

The Dakota Access Pipeline will further add to that safety record, helping transport the equivalent of up to 798 rail cars and 2,850 semis of crude oil every day. It also will help the Three Affiliated Tribes get its valuable crude to market, benefitting its people and workers.

In its first year, the pipeline will generate more than $13.1 million in property taxes along its route in North Dakota, helping fund schools, emergency services, infrastructure and property tax relief.

But perhaps most important, it will deliver American oil to refineries, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our national security.

North Dakotans asked for better infrastructure, and a majority of North Dakotans support this vital project. After two years of vetting and environmental reviews, the project also has the approval of four states, the federal government and the individual landowners of 97 percent of the properties along the route.

Unfortunately, a small but vocal group led by out-of-state activists and environmentalists who do not have the state's best interests at heart have been using violence, trespass and intimidation to try and upend this lawful project.

Not only has this put the safety of the labor union workers who are building this project at risk, but also it has threatened the safety of law enforcement and even the peaceful protesters.

North Dakotans have a long record of working together. The actions of extreme groups such as Earthjustice, Bold and the American Indian Movement that are backing this protest do not align with this North Dakota value, and they certainly don't align with what's best for the state or its people.

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Instead, these groups have made it clear that their sole objective is to halt any and all energy production, no matter the cost to middle-class Americans or the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

We hope for the peaceful and lawful resolution to this situation and the continued construction of this vital project that will provide so many benefits to this state and nation. Let's stop protesting progress and start getting this pipe in the ground to further improve our energy security.

Ness is the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. He serves as the industry spokesperson and manages the association.

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