Just a few days ago, I wrote a piece commenting on the rarity of an oil and gas operator ― in this case Cabot Oil & Gas ― aggressively pursuing litigation in court instead of taking the path of least resistance. Imagine my surprise ― maybe even delight ― when, just hours after that piece was published, I read the news that Energy Transfer Partners, the builder of the Dakota Access Pipeline, had filed suit in Federal District Court against Greenpeace, EarthFirst and others who organized and participated in the long protest action and subsequent efforts to damage that pipeline.
The complaint, according to the company’s press release, “alleges that this group of co-conspirators (the ‘Enterprise’) manufactured and disseminated materially false and misleading information about Energy Transfer and the Dakota Access Pipeline (‘DAPL’) for the purpose of fraudulently inducing donations, interfering with pipeline construction activities and damaging Energy Transfer’s critical business and financial relationships. The complaint also alleges that the Enterprise incited, funded and facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism to further these objectives. It further alleges claims that these actions violated federal and state racketeering statutes, defamation, and constituted defamation and tortious interference under North Dakota law.”
Robert Duval’s character in “True Grit” might look at that paragraph and call it “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man,” and no doubt proving these claims against well-financed conflict groups like Greenpeace and EarthFirst, which we can be sure will be very effective represented in court, will present a high bar. But we can also be sure that no corporation would pursue such controversial litigation unless its management and legal teams believed there was a strong opportunity for success. The real monetary costs and potential for reputational damage are too high to risk on a case with a low prospect for success.