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Economists Paid to Study Dakota Access Pipeline Benefits; Time for Art of Opposition?

Map of proposed Dakota Access pipeline route through South Dakota; see full route map at
Map of proposed Dakota Access pipeline route through South Dakota (click to embiggen; see full route map at

Larry Pressler's pipeline plan is already rolling. The Dakota Access oil pipeline would ship Bakken oil from North Dakota to Patokia, Illinois, refineries. Thirty inches wide and moving 450,000 barrels per day, Dakota Access would match the first Keystone pipeline in size, destructive power, and, if our Legislature had the good sense to pass a pipeline tax, $200 million in budget-boosting potential.

Dakota Access, which is one of the heads of energy hydra Energy Transfer Partners, paid Strategic Economics Group of Iowa to write up an economic impact statement for its pipeline. SEG itemizes benefits for South Dakota:

Construction stage (2015-2016):

  • Estimated impact on production and sales: $835.8 Million
  • Estimated impact on labor income: $302.8 Million
  • Estimated number of additional job-years of employment: 7,100
  • Estimated increase in state sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $35.6 Million
  • Estimated increase in local sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $2.9 Million

Operations and maintenance stage (annually beginning in 2017):

  • Estimated increase in production and sales: $4.2 Million
  • Estimated increase in labor income: $1.9 Million
  • Estimated increase in full-time jobs: 31
  • Estimated increase in state sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $135,000
  • Estimated increase in local sales, use, gross receipts and lodging taxes: $62,000
  • Estimated increase in local property taxes: about $13 Million [Strategic Economics Group, "South Dakota Economic & Fiscal Impact Fact Sheet," November 2014]

Iowa State University economist David Swenson, who has not been paid by Dakota Access, is skeptical of this economic impact analysis:

“It’s not worthless, but it’s an industry-sponsored promotion piece designed to get the public to support it,” Swenson said. “Policymaker beware.”

...Swenson said the study uses a deceptive calculation for jobs, called job years. If one job existed for two years, it would be counted as two job years, he said. He said for the $1 billion economic output, a similar duplication by years is used, and he disputed using gross transactions as a measure of economic output [B.A. Morelli, "ISU Economist Doubts Study Touting Economic Benefits of Pipeline," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2014.11.13].

Orland organic impresario Charlie Johnson won't be swayed by economic abstractions. Dakota Access will cut through 160 acres that he farms organically. If our state's embrace of the Keystone pipeline and Mike Rounds's Big-Oil lies are any indication, Johnson won't get any sympathy from state courts or regulators.

But maybe Johnson can divert Dakota Access by getting creative and copyrighting his land as a work of art, as Alberta artist Peter von Tisenhausen did:

Tiesenhausen made the decision after years of legal battles with oil and gas companies that wanted access to the deposits of natural gas that sit just beneath his 800-acre plot of land. Under federal law, Alberta landowners have the rights only to the surface of their land. The riches that lie beneath are generally owned by the government, which can grant oil and gas producers access so long as the companies agree to compensate landowners. This compensation is usually for lost harvests and inconvenience, but, Tiesenhausen reasoned, what if instead of a field of crops these companies were destroying the life’s work of an acclaimed visual artist? Wouldn’t the compensation have to be exponentially higher?

...In 2003, he presented his copyright argument before the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, which told him that copyright law was beyond its jurisdiction and he would need to pursue that in the courts. So far that hasn’t been necessary. The oil and gas companies have since backed off, even paying for an expensive rerouting of pipelines, and have yet to bother testing his copyright [Amy Fung, "An Alberta Sculptor Fights Oil Companies to Exhibit Art on His Own Land," 2010.04.22].

Ah, so that's why Dennis Daugaard doesn't want kids majoring in liberal arts.

I invite the legal scholars in our audience to determine whether the land-copyright argument would transfer from Canadian to American law. Lawyer Monica Goyal notes that von Tisenhausen's argument hasn't faced court scrutiny yet; his willingness to lawyer up and press up has simply deterred the pipeliners eying his land from pushing the issue.

But Charlie, we know an artist or two around Lake County who like to work big. Perhaps a few acres of artistic ingenuity could keep that black snake from burrowing through your land. Start an art-protest-pipeline-barrier demo project, and perhaps Dakota Rural Action could collaborate with Christo to come up with a creative state-spanning installation that would keep Big Oil from trampling our property rights.


  1. Bill Fleming 2014.11.25

    That's a brilliant solution. In a Conceptual Art framework, the artist wouldn't really have to do anything to the land to protect it other than to say it is art, and claim the copyright. For precident, see Robert Rauschenberg's 'Erased deKooning' and his portrait telegram that reads 'This is a portrait of (i forget her name, sorry) if i say so. Also note the works of Andy Goldsworthy and other concptualists.

  2. larry kurtz 2014.11.25

    Why a Republican former US Senator continues to have a blog presence at Madville remains a mystery.

  3. Bill Dithmer 2014.11.25

    Man Cory your reaching. Even if Charlie is to say that his art is constantly evolving, would have no barring because if the pipeline goes through they could claim it is evolving.

    On the other hand if he could copywrite his land he would also loose the use because he would change the meaning and scope of the copywriten material.

    The Blindman

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.25

    Bill D, you're a creative artist yourself. Work with me here! If you went on the road with your brilliant songwriting, you could perform them differently from venue to venue and still maintain your copyright, royalties, etc. Charlie's art need not be static. It can be a living, constantly changing, four-dimensional piece occupying space and time.

    And hey, if you think I'm reaching, I'd have thought someone would have said the same to TransCanada in 2007, when they suggested that a foreign company could exercise eminent domain over U.S. property owners by arguing that their private pipeline that will make no one but them big money is actually a common carrier.

  5. Paul Seamans 2014.11.25

    I have wondered what would happen if a landowner would give a perpetual conservation easement to some group such as the Nature Conservancy. Would a transmission line be able to cross the land? More importantly, would this stop a pipeline from being able to cross?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.25

    Paul, does Nature Conservancy still let the landholders plant crops?

  7. Paul Seamans 2014.11.25

    Cory, from what I've heard you can still use the land like you have before but you can't add any improvements like buildings or dams. As far as changing the cropping history I'm not sure. In areas that are threatened by urban sprawl ranchers will do a perpetual easement, they receive a one time payment, and the land is protected from housing developments. I have heard that you can't even run a power line across the land after it is entered the easement.

  8. David Bergan 2014.11.25

    One of those green dashes is directly over my house! I expect my neighbors will revive the old Save Our Neighborhood (tm) group.


    Another round of petitions and angry backyard rants headed my way.

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