This article is the first in a series about Standing Rock, North Dakota — the contested pipeline and the people fighting its construction. Nexus Media will be highlighting voices from the protests unfolding along the Missouri River.
Winter is starting to descend on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. While temperatures may be falling, Native resistance to a controversial pipeline is not.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is protesting a pipeline that would run from North Dakota’s oil fields to a refinery 1,100 miles away in Illinois. The pipeline would snake through Indian burial sites and pass under the Missouri River upstream from the reservation, threatening to contaminate the tribe’s sole source of water.
Dakota Access, the company behind the pipeline, has pushed forward on construction despite the objections of the Sioux. The Sioux responded by protesting, their numbers bolstered by demonstrators from more than 100 other tribes.
In the wake of protests, the Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the pipeline, has blocked construction under the Missouri River until it can have a “robust discussion” with the Sioux. Officials are considering ways to reroute the pipeline.
The army corps of engineers didn’t consult the Sioux.
Federal agencies must consult with Native nations before approving construction projects that could threaten sacred sites. The Army Corps of Engineers failed to consult with the Sioux when permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline, only reaching out to the tribe when the project’s approval was all but certain. By not involving the Sioux earlier, the Army Corps may have violated the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The kerfuffle at Standing Rock is hardly an outlier in the history of the Sioux. The tribe has watched its land vanish over years of American encroachment — both during the country’s initial Westward expansion and in subsequent years as the federal government turned over Native land to gold miners and homesteaders.
The Dakota Access Pipeline fits this trend. The project was initially slated to pass by Bismarck, North Dakota. It was rerouted toward the Sioux reservation to protect local water supplies around the state capital. Now the Sioux are in a battle to guard their only source of water.
Environmentalists have allied with the Sioux.
The protests at Standing Rock have attracted the support of environmentalists. While the Sioux, who describe themselves “water protectors,” are fighting for clean water, green groups see the pipeline as another battleground in the fight against climate change.
The Dakota Access Pipeline provides an important flashpoint, reminiscent of Keystone XL. It allows organizers to focus their efforts, and the attention of the public, on a single battle with a well-defined objective. Block the pipeline and oil companies face one more barrier to exporting their core product. Victory would send a clear message about the power of the climate movement, the dangers of oil and gas infrastructure, and the dire need to grapple with carbon crises.
Protests have popped up around the country.
Protestors at Standing Rock have been met with private security officers armed with dogs and mace, as well as police officers using noise cannons, tear gas and rubber pellets. This hasn’t stopped demonstrations. Rather, it’s fueled sympathizers to take to the streets. In a show of solidarity, protests have taken hold around the United States. From Los Angeles to Denver to Chicago to Washington to New York, thousands of demonstrators have voiced their support for the Sioux.
The pipeline presents a conflict of interest for Donald Trump.
Industry insiders expect the incoming president to approve the pipeline. Trump has up to $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners, parent company of Dakota Access, the firm overseeing the project. Kelcy Warren, head of Energy Transfer Partners, donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund. The apparent conflict of interest runs deep, as several of Trump’s advisors also have an interest in the pipeline.
The pipeline is probably unnecessary.
Low oil prices have stunted production in North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. A new report from the nonprofit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis finds that, if this trend continues, the pipeline will prove superfluous to existing infrastructure.
“Existing pipeline and refinery capacity in the Bakken [oil fields] will be more than adequate to handle the region’s oil production,” said Cathy Kunkel, lead author of the report. “The Dakota Access Pipeline could well become a stranded asset.”
Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.