By Terence Zhao
On Oct. 31, the Review, in typical contrarian fashion, published an article in favor of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and against the Standing Rock protesters.
Its argument, also in typical fashion, leaves much to be desired.
The article’s reasoning is essentially twofold: First, that the Standing Rock Sioux supposedly had the opportunity to attend meetings to voice their objections but failed to do so; second, that by blocking the pipeline, the protesters are supposedly making “millions” worse off in a variety of ways, from relegating oil transport to the rails to increasing fuel prices to blocking economic growth.
The first point is not exactly false — The Hill, for one, confirms this assertion. But, it is definitely a disingenuous attack designed to win on a technicality. The Sioux counters that opposition was not exactly going to be well received for DAPL. The project had been fast-tracked (thus having fewer environmental regulations to clear) since day one and had the blessings of North Dakota officials (in bed with the oil tycoons) all along. These claims were made in the Sioux chief’s op-ed in The New York Times but are easily verifiable independently. And these facts show us the reality of the situation: DAPL had already been effectively pre-approved by the relevant authorities before any hearings were even scheduled, and I doubt what anyone says in the hearings would then make a difference.
The second point, however, is patently false.
The argument that the pipeline will replace the more dangerous alternative of shipping oil by freight train is not invalid but ignores two important points. First, the pipeline will make oil production in North Dakota much more profitable, which will thereby increase production. Further, as data show, the number of pipeline spills increases by the same magnitude that oil production increases. So, the pipeline is not as safe as the Review would have you believe. And second, the pipeline increases production in the Bakken oil formations of North Dakota, one of the world’s dirtiest sources of crude oil in terms of emissions. Even if you are not an environmentalist and you are all for oil production, it would still make sense to do it elsewhere, where oil is easier to extract and releases fewer toxic byproducts into the ground and air. The increased production that DAPL will cause, then, should be treated as not a positive, but a negative.
As for lowering oil prices, I will simply point out that the last time the oil companies felt that oil prices were too low, they lobbied government to start the Iraq War to drive it back up. And before you accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist, I will point out that this was the conclusion reached by the Chilcot report, an official report by the UK government. So, make of that what you will, but I dare venture it is pretty reliable as far as conclusions go. The point being, oil companies make less money when oil prices are low, and they have the necessary political power to change that; So, just because we increase oil supply doesn’t necessarily mean that prices at the pump will drop.
Finally, on the point about blocking economic growth: First of all, I must note that it is terribly amusing to see the Review claim to speak for “the most marginalized Americans and global citizens.”
Now, as I have already made the case that we won’t necessarily get lower prices at the pump, the bulk of the argument for why the pipeline will incur economic growth becomes invalid, and the only potential economic benefit the pipeline would bring would be the jobs it creates. So, how many jobs will DAPL create?
The Review claims that the number is “10,000” in North Dakota alone. This is false to the point of absurdity. In fact, the company building the pipeline is claiming only 8,000-12,000 jobs created for the entire pipeline — or about 33,000 “job years”. Two problems with that — first, we are taking the company at its word, even though this figure is likely inflated. Second, even if we take the company’s word for it, these are construction jobs that, as the “job years” figure shows, are temporary and will only last about three years if you just do a quick division there. How many permanent jobs is DAPL creating?
The Des Moines Register estimates a mere 15 in Iowa. If you just multiply that by the four states DAPL runs through, you get a paltry 60 permanent jobs generated in four states. Anyone who can call that economic growth is, to put it a bit undiplomatically, either crazy or has no shame.
In summary, the Review’s argument against the Standing Rock protesters is basically groundless.
Now, the point of my writing all this is not for my enjoyment of thrashing a Review article. Don’t get me wrong — it is incredibly fun. But, it’s almost a bit too fun because this entire rebuttal took me less than an hour of research. And I know that the good people at the Review are at minimum just as capable of doing this research as I am, and probably much more so. It’s not like it’s anything complicated — it’s just Google searches. And it’s not like I’m getting my facts from obscure left-wing blogs, either — it’s exceedingly mainstream publications like The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune — publications that should be as much of a staple for the Review as they are for me.
The point being: There is no excuse for the Review to put out something like this. It’s not that I don’t agree with it; it is that the argument is simply not supported by facts — facts that are easily checkable. The Review, in putting this article out, demonstrates that it is more interested in writing something that is against Stanford’s general consensus and has shock factor rather than a genuine attempt at good journalism. And that’s quite shameful because Stanford does need something that the Review claims to do — “promote debate about campus and national issues that are otherwise not represented by traditional publications.” The Review just isn’t doing right by its own mission statement.
The Review loves to play victim and say that people are biased against it, and that is fundamentally dishonest. People don’t hate the Review because they disagree with its politics; people hate it because the Review, rather than present any genuine, fact-based commentary, prefers to light heaps of trash on fire for attention. Sad.
Editor’s note: The Stanford Review released a statement in response to this column, clarifying that the views expressed in the article discussed above do not represent the beliefs of the Review as an institution. The full text of the letter can be read here.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.