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Dakota Access protests come to Houston as the light crude market keeps shifting

The fight to halt construction of the Dakota Access crude pipeline made its way to the US energy capital as dozens of activists marched and chanted through the streets of downtown Houston.

Carrying signs decorated with oil derricks, solar panels and tombstones, a group of around 75 activists marched for about six city blocks on October 12. The procession was headed by people in traditional Native American dress carrying incense burner.

Protestors in downtown Houston. Photo by Allen Reed.

Protesters in downtown Houston. Photo by Allen Reed.

The display is the latest in the ever-escalating pushback against crude oil pipelines. Similar satellite protests have been held in Dallas, Detroit, Denver and other sites across the nation. Actress Shailene Woodley, star of "Snowden," "Divergent" and “Once Upon a Mattress,” was arrested in North Dakota on October 10 and the celebrity opposition pool includes Susan Sarandon, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pharrell among others.

The Dakota Access pipeline cleared a key hurdle October 9 when a federal appeals court denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction to block construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline that will transport Bakken and light Canadian crude across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

Developer Energy Transfer Partners said October 11 that it plans to immediately resume construction but still needs the blessing of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing the line’s crossing of the Missouri River.

Analysts expect startup of the line to be delayed into mid-2017, while climate activists have pledged to continue their opposition to the project.

The Houston march coincided with, but wasn’t directly connected to, the restart of several major oil sands pipelines targeted by a Seattle-based climate group.

Climate Direction Action, in what appears to be the first multi-pipeline targeting of its kind, attempted to shutter 2.537 million b/d of oil sands throughput by shutting emergency valves along five pipelines — Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain, Spectra’s Energy Express, TransCanada’s Keystone and Enbridge’s lines 4 and 67. Climate activists broke into the facilities on October 11 but the lines had all returned to service by October 12.

The regulatory uncertainty and the breaking news of Dakota Access lawsuits, protests and general hiccups have caused Bakken and light Canadian crude oil prices to swing back and forth.

As early as August 9, crude traders said that a 55-cent/b gain in SSP to the calendar-month average of the front-month NYMEX light sweet crude futures contract (WTI CMA) to minus 80 cents/b was partly due to the expected startup of Dakota Access.

A protester in downtown Houston. Photo by Allen Reed.

A protester in downtown Houston. Photo by Allen Reed.

Traders credit a 45 cents/b gain to minus 55 cents/b on August 15 to the line, but the line has also been blamed for weakening prices. The grade fell 30 cents/b on September 12 to minus 85 cents/b after a Department of Justice announcement caused construction on the line to be postponed.

With protestors stretched everywhere from North Dakota to the streets of Houston , there’s no clear end for to the Dakota Access controversy or the price volatility that comes with it.