As tribes continue to resist Dakota Access pipeline, oil exec suggests paying them off

The tribe fighting the oil line said money isn’t the issue.

James J. Volker, chief executive officer of Whiting Petroleum. CREDIT: Whiting Petroleum Corporation
James J. Volker, chief executive officer of Whiting Petroleum. CREDIT: Whiting Petroleum Corporation

A top oil executive with North Dakota’s largest oil producer said the stalemate between tribes and the controversial Dakota Access pipeline that’s sparked mass protests across the country could end if tribes got oil service contracts.

James J. Volker, chief executive officer of Whiting Petroleum, told Reuters tribal grievances against the $3.8 billion pipeline could be solved if the industry gave tribes economic opportunities. That would including contracting with Native American-owned firms for water hauling and other oil-related jobs.

“We as an industry like to see them provide those services,” Volker told Reuters Tuesday while at the Independent Petroleum Association of America symposium in San Francisco. “It does provide a better standard of living for them. It does provide a direct tie to the energy business and makes them and their tribal leaders more inclined to want to have more energy development.”


The Dakota Access pipeline — a 1,172-mile project about as long as the Keystone XL line — would be the largest oil pipeline out of North Dakota’s Bakken oil field. It would move daily more than half a million barrels of crude oil through the Dakotas, Iowa, and into a hub in Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has long opposed the project, saying the pipeline puts the Missouri River it’s set to cross at risk of an oil spill, meaning the tribe’s sole water supply is also in harms way. In addition, the tribe claims it wasn’t properly consulted and that ancestral cultural resources are at risk of destruction, since the pipeline would run through federal land less than half a mile away from their reservation. The tribe’s opposition has inspired protests across the country, backed by 200 tribes and numerous environmental organizations.

The Obama administration called for a pause in construction on the North Dakota portion earlier this month as agencies review the permits already issued. A federal court also issued a temporary injunction on construction. The pipeline is being built elsewhere, however, as it runs almost exclusively through state land out of federal jurisdiction. The project is reportedly more than 60 percent complete.

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, told Reuters he appreciated Volker’s comment, but that money has nothing to do with their opposition.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to allow this line to come through just because some indigenous-owned company may benefit,” Archambault said. “If this pipeline goes through, we will be the first to pay the cost.”

Volker’s comments come as Dakota Access, a developing arm of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, bought more than 6,000 acres of land adjacent to the line’s route. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told Dakota Access on Tuesday it has 30 days to explain how it will use the land.

Volker, who said he was sensitive to the tribe’s concerns, expects the issue to be resolved in November. He also said Dakota Access’ decision to purchase the additional and was a “pretty good move.”