May 7, 2017 by



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Missouri Watershed | Alma and Friends | Data Sources: 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tiger Roads (2015), ESRI, National Hydrologic Dataset, Keystone Pipeline Washington Post, The Bismarck Tribune

Construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) began in July 2014. Starting in the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota, the proposed 1,172- mile long pipeline is poised to transport 450,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day to Patoka, Illinois, before being shipped to refineries on the Gulf Coast. In a bid to avoid federal environmental review, the pipeline has mostly been routed through private land by Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), and its partners.

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The pipeline will cross Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakewea and the Missouri River, among many other streams and rivers. This route not only directly crosses the Standing Rock Reservation’s main water source, it also passes through — and has thus destroyed — Native burial grounds and sacred sites. ETP expects the pipeline to start delivering oil on May 14.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency who manages the easement next to the Missouri River where the last section of the pipeline was to be built, organized a hearing to discuss the easement in April 2016. They encountered  near-unanimous opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Despite this and intense opposition from native and indigenous communities and nations from across the country and around the world, in July the Army Corps of Engineers approved three highly contentious easements, including ancestral burial sites for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Water Protector rides an Appaloosa at Standing Rock | Photo: Dark Sevier, some rights reserved
Water Protector rides an Appaloosa at Standing Rock | Photo: Dark Sevier, some rights reserved

The “right to be consulted” is one of these: whenever a federal agency has to approve or execute a construction project, regardless of whether it is on or near reservation land, it must consult with Native nations and engage with them as representatives of sovereign nations. In particular, this federal law unequivocally states that “regulations require Federal agencies to consult with Indian tribes when they attach religious and cultural significance to a historic property regardless of the location of that property.”

This consultation is supposed to be conducted in a collaborative way, not in an ushering in of representatives of Native nations at the last minute as an inconvenient formality in order to get the green light for a construction project.

And it is precisely this right to be consulted that the Standing Rock Sioux say was completely overlooked; especially in light of the fact that important archeological evidence had been found pointing to the existence of ancient and sacred burial sites lying in the path of the pipeline. Indeed, the tribe and their lawyers allege that less than 24 hours after this evidence was presented, construction took place on those very same sites, likely destroying them for good.

The desecration of an indigenous nation’s sacred and historical sites is one reason for the tribe’s forceful opposition to the DAPL. The other is the very real threat to their water supply, the Missouri River, being poisoned by the pipeline. Not only is Bakken crude fracked, it is also highly volatile. There is thus an extremely high likelihood of the pipeline leaking. Indeed, in a safety alert to the public in January 2014, the US Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) warns that:

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of projects that propose fossil fuel infrastructure, like the DAPL, if those agencies are involved in the project in any way. DAPL’s need for an easement through Army Corps lands triggers this obligation under NEPA. In spite of this, and in direct violation of federal law, construction on the pipeline has begun without the completion of a full Environmental Impact Statement.

A demonstrator opposes shipping Bakken crude through her community | Photo: Overpass Light Brigade, some rights reserved
A demonstrator sums up the dangers of shipping Bakken crude.  | Photo: Overpass Light Brigade, some rights reserved

In addition to this, if the pipeline ever leaked or broke, the Army Corps would be in breach of the Clean Water Act, especially as they did not partner with the Standing Rock Sioux in the permitting process for the pipeline. This issue of a community’s water supply being poisoned has also created a growing opposition movement to the pipeline in Iowa.

Of course, we are now living in a different time. Federal laws and organizations that had been put in place to safeguard the environment and enforce regulation on the fossil fuel industry are being systematically dismantled. President Trump has personally invested over $1.5 million in companies building the DAPL. In return, one of Energy Transfer Partners’ CEOs made $150,000 in contributions to the Trump campaign. Unsurprisingly, in January of this year, Trump signed an executive order urging the continuation not only of the DAPL but also of the Keystone Access Pipeline.

arrests standing rock
Arrests at the Standing Rock encampments in 2016 | Photo: Democracy Now

And in February, opposition encampments at Cannonball, ND, consisting of Native tribes and activists — aptly called the “water protectors” — from all over the country and indeed, the globe, were  forced to disband after months of brave resistance in freezing temperatures, and in the face of violence and brutality from the authorities. More than 3000 veterans, both Native and non-Native, had deployed to these camps in solidarity with the water protectors.

DAPL proponents are now celebrating the desecration of the land, the water and the people who belong to it. They do so after going head to head with one of the largest and most peaceful opposition movements in history. But it’s clear that this is exactly what opponents of DAPL are: a movement, a living breathing entity that draws strength from its setbacks as much as its victories, and which will not be silenced or defeated. The struggle is not over.

If you oppose DAPL, here’s something you can do:

Find out if your bank is funding DAPL, and write to them. Or send a more powerful message by removing your funds to smaller credit unions or co-operatives. Stay informed and volunteer your time or resources where possible.


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