Why I Believe Energy Transfer Partners’ Corporate Behavior on Human Rights, Free Speech, and the Environment Has Gone Too Far — and Continues to Do So

“The world is watching what is happening in North Dakota."

by Annie Leonard

June 18, 2018

In a new Greenpeace report, we detail Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) vast swath of unethical and inappropriate tactics used against those that stand up to protect water, farmland, and Indigenous rights. And If one thing is abundantly clear, ETP hasn't stopped — in fact, it's doubling down on these extreme practices in the other locations where it has pipeline projects.

Water Protectors engineered a makeshift wooden pedestrian bridge over the Cantapeta Creek. They were trying to access ancestral burial grounds they believe are being damaged by the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. Heavily armed law enforcement officials were deployed. As they pulled the bridge apart with boats, the Water Protectors swam and used their own boats to cross the water. Standing unarmed in the cold water, the protectors were forcibly repelled by the enforcers with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Standoffs between the Water Protectors and law enforcement over the Dakota Access Pipeline continue in the area that has become ground zero for opposition to a $3.7 billion project that would move domestic crude oil across four states and destroy tribal lands.

Read the full report here.

Back in December 2014, the Dallas, Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) applied for permitting to begin construction on yet another oil project — this time it was the $3.78 billion Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline was to carry crude oil from the Bakken shale oil field in northwest North Dakota, through North and South Dakota and Iowa, to an oil storage and transport facility in Illinois.

Yet by the fall of 2016, the controversial project had gained international attention for the egregious and inappropriate tactics ETP used against opponents of DAPL.

To say I was stunned by what I saw unfold at Standing Rock would be an understatement. Witnessing the tactics ETP was willing to utilize to protect its profits was unprecedented in scope — Water Protectors and allies were subjected to physical harm and unending harassment, not to mention the profound threat and subsequent consequences this pipeline leveled on sacred land. And that was only the beginning — with ETP retaining private security firms now notorious for violent practices, and by issuing a flood of subsequent legal tactics and lobbying efforts aimed at restricting free speech — it was a breathtaking affront to the fundamental rights of all involved.

The world noticed, and it sparked protests around the world.

Water Protectors engineered a makeshift wooden pedestrian bridge over the Cantapeta Creek. They were trying to access ancestral burial grounds they believe are being damaged by the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. Heavily armed law enforcement officials were deployed. As they pulled the bridge apart with boats, the Water Protectors swam and used their own boats to cross the water. Standing unarmed in the cold water, the protectors were forcibly repelled by the enforcers with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

But if you think that the widespread global backlash that developed against these tactics at Standing Rock would have stopped ETP, think again.

ETP has not only continued to apply many of the same dirty methods — displaying the kind of poor corporate behaviour that directly contributed to this controversy in the first place — but it has doubled down on its unethical practices in numerous other locations where it has pipeline projects, including the Rover pipeline in Ohio, the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana, and the Mariner East 2 project in Pennsylvania.

In our new report, “Too Far, Too Often” we detail ETP’s extreme methods, revealing a vast swath of unethical and inappropriate tactics used against those that stand up to its pipelines to protect water, farmland, and Indigenous rights. If one thing is abundantly clear, it’s that ETP will stop at nothing to get its pipelines built. Think about it, if as a corporation, your overarching approach to profit protection is to hire TigerSwan — a U.S. military contractor tasked with clearing munitions during the Iraq war — and allow them free-rein to use military-style counterterrorism tactics against Water Protectors and allies at Standing Rock, it’s obvious that respecting human rights is, how shall I say it, not in your wheelhouse.

The marchers head down Pennsylvania Avenue with the U.S. Capitol in the background. Native Nations March. Native nations gather this week to stand up for indigenous rights. Thousands march from the Army Corps of Engineers to Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, where a rally is held.

This report is yet another reminder of why we must put a stop to these pipelines and continue to push back against one of the biggest factors that keep companies like ETP in play — financing. I have a message for the institutions that uphold financial support to ETP and, by proxy, its unethical methods: you are ethically and reputationally associated with this mess if your services provide the financial backing to allow these practices to continue. You have a choice to make, and that choice is an obvious one.

ETP’s inability or sheer unwillingness to learn the necessary corporate lessons from DAPL could beget more trouble for banks in the future. And while ETP has shown little sign of improving its ways, the institutions that offer financing and loans to them can. Stand with us in solidarity with all those who have been forced to put their lives on the line to protect their water, land and fundamental rights, and tell banks like JPMorgan Chase that enough is enough.

Below is a summary of our findings against ETP, and you can access the full report here.

1. Violating Indigenous Sovereignty and Rights

  • DAPL was approved without meeting international standards of free, prior, and informed consent of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. For additional context see the section called “Tactic 1: Violating Indigenous Sovereignty and Rights”  in the report.
  • The company ignored calls for a voluntary halt in construction by the U.S. Departments of Justice, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the U.S. Army as controversy and questions around appropriate levels of assessment and due diligence arose in early fall 2016.
  • Dakota Access bulldozed an area of the pipeline corridor filled with Tribal sacred sites and burials. Documented in a UN report, a Sioux elder and cultural leader reported damage to at least 380 cultural and sacred sites along the pipeline route.

2. Use of Intimidation and Threats to Free Speech

  • Water Protectors and individuals opposing DAPL faced excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and lawsuits. For additional information about the use of force and intimidation, see sections called “Tactic 2: Silencing Free Speech with Intimidation” and “Tactic 4: Enabling Violence Against Communities” in the full report.

Intimidation Through Litigation Against Pipeline Opponents

  • ETP and its related companies use SLAPP suits to attempt to silence and intimidate opposition. This included suing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman and Tribal Councilman and several others “seeking restraining orders and unspecified monetary damages.”
  • After construction of DAPL was complete, in fall 2017, ETP filed a $900 million SLAPP suit against Greenpeace entities, Banktrack, and EarthFirst!, accusing the organizations of inciting and directing acts of “eco-terrorism.”
  • Arbitrary arrests and anti-free-speech lawsuits have become more commonplace across the sector in efforts to shut down pipeline opposition. However, ETP’s extreme use of litigation, including the use of RICO claims and high damages, could set a dangerous new precedent and have a chilling effect on the ability of individuals, communities, and organizations to vocalize and demonstrate opposition to future projects. See the section called “Tactic 2: Silencing Free Speech with Intimidation” for additional information.

Rise of Anti-Protest Bills

  • Following the controversy around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a series of more than 60 bills were introduced across the country restricting the right to protest and criminalizing protest, potentially deterring First Amendment-protected free speech activity. See the section entitled “Tactic 3: Criminalizing Protest with Unjust Laws” for a detailed look at these new proposed bills.
  • ETP has directly supported at least one bill (in Iowa) through in-state lobbying efforts. It has likely influenced and/or supported some of these efforts through financial campaign contributions, a network of revolving-door lobbyists and government insiders, and its connection with the American Legislative Exchange Council. For more information about ETP’s link to these lobbying efforts, see the subsection “ETP, ALEC, and Anti-Protest bills.”

3. Concerns with Private Security Contractors

  • ETP continues to work with private security companies, including TigerSwan, which used excessive force and military-style counterterrorism measures against Water Protectors and operated without a license during the events at Standing Rock. See the section called “Tactic 4: Enabling Violence Against Communities” for additional information.
  • The activities of private security employees during that time raise questions about the level of due diligence exercised by ETP and its contractors, including TigerSwan, in assessing the suitability and providing oversight of persons hired for these situations.
  • Despite numerous controversies and criticism of TigerSwan’s operation and behavior, ETP continues to have ties with TigerSwan, which provides services on projects in other states, like the Mariner East 2 pipeline project in Pennsylvania.   For additional information, see the subsection entitled “TigerSwan in Other States.”

4. Seizing Private Property

  • ETP and related companies are aggressively seizing private property through eminent domain proceedings in all of their current major pipeline projects — Bayou Bridge, Bakken (DAPL, ETCO), ME2, and the Rover Pipeline.
  • Private landowners are challenging the legality of the property seizure. For additional information refer to the section “Tactic 5: Seizing Private Property” in the full report.

5. Spills, Fines, and Safety Concerns

  • Pipelines operated by ETP and its related company, Sunoco, and their subsidiaries, spilled hazardous liquids 527 times from 2002 to the end of 2017 — an average of one incident every 11 days.
  • Sixty-seven of the spills were reported to have contaminated water, including 18 incidents that contaminated groundwater, and more than 100 of the incidents involved 50 barrels or more. The spills caused an estimated $115 million in property damage.
  • ETP has been subject to hundreds of enforcement actions and fined more than $355 million since 2000. See the section called “Dirty Pipelines: Spills and Safety Concerns” for additional information.

Melinda Tillies holds a sign with a message for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC on her front lawn. The pipeline is being installed so close to her home, that she is worried her home’s foundation shifted as the company started moving equipment into place to start installing the pipeline., 8.18.16.BB Pipeline

ETP’s unwillingness or inability to learn the necessary lessons from DAPL should raise concerns among the company’s institutional financiers, who continue to be exposed to the reputational and financial impacts of ETP’s unacceptable practices.

Therefore, and in light of ETP’s ongoing approach to human rights and its poor record on pipeline spills and safety, banks should end any current financial relationship with ETP and related companies, and should not provide any further financial services, including loans, to the companies.

Annie Leonard

By Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and has returned to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. She is based in San Francisco.

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