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North Dakota School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler says a possible shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline would cause “extensive harm” to the state’s public schools by reducing oil tax revenues that they rely upon.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been taking public comment on a draft statement about the possible environmental impacts of Dakota Access, which transports crude oil from northwestern North Dakota to an oil terminal in southern Illinois. Dakota Access moves more than half of North Dakota’s oil production, which averaged 1.28 million barrels per day in September 2023, the latest month for which statistics are available.

The Corps’ draft statement includes five alternatives for the pipeline’s future operation. State officials say three of the alternatives would force a shutdown of the pipeline. Baesler, Gov. Doug Burgum, and other state officials have submitted comments urging the Corps to allow the pipeline to continue operating. The deadline for public comment passed Wednesday.

Oil tax revenues make up a substantial chunk of the state aid that North Dakota provides to its K-12 schools, Baesler said in her comments.

A pipeline shutdown would reduce those revenues and cause “extensive, immediate, and irreparable harm … to more than 130,000 North Dakota public and nonpublic school students and their families, as well as the teachers, administrators, and school staff who support them,” Baesler said.

The 2023 Legislature agreed to spend $2.38 billion in state aid to education over two years, the superintendent said. About $1.7 billion will be from the state’s general fund, which is reliant on oil and gas taxes. The state’s Common Schools Trust Fund ($500 million) and its Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund ($157 million) also contribute substantial amounts. Both funds depend on oil and gas production for large chunks of revenue.

“So, a potential shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline would greatly disrupt state aid to local K-12 schools,” Baesler said. “It would reduce state revenues available to provide instruction to public school students. It would hamstring initiatives to increase the pay of our classroom teachers, and to relieve our shortages of both teachers and school administrators.”

A shutdown “would damage our efforts to support students with special needs,” Baesler continued. “It will shift the responsibility for supporting local schools away from the state, which now provides more than 70 percent of local education expenditures, to local property taxpayers. This would lead to further inequities of access and opportunities for our students of color and special needs.”

Burgum has said the pipeline has operated safely since it began shipping oil in June 2017, and that a shutdown would force oil shippers to use tanker trucks, railroads and other transport options “that are more costly to consumers, less safe and less friendly to the environment.”

The Corps of Engineers has previously allowed the pipeline project to go ahead. In July 2016, the Corps granted permission to the developers of Dakota Access to build the pipeline beneath federal property on Lake Oahe, south of Bismarck. 

The pipeline began operating in June 2017. However, in March 2020, a federal judge ordered the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement on the pipeline project, ruling that concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental groups had not been properly considered. The pipeline has continued operating while the Corps review and the litigation continues. 

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