Dakota Access Pipeline: What's Happening
by Joshua Carson
The Bakken Pipeline, also known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, is an oil pipeline currently being constructed by the company Energy Transfer Partners. If completed, the pipeline is estimated to move 450,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline is currently slated to run through parts of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which includes land in North and South Dakota.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is located in North and South Dakota, has been leading a protest since April 2016 against the construction of this pipeline. They are now joined by other indigenous groups as well as non-indigenous peoples. Their protest centers on the protection of water and sacred grounds.
From a Tribal Statement: "There are two broad issues. First, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) just a half a mile upstream of the Tribe's reservation boundary, where a spill would be culturally and economically catastrophic. Second, the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burials that federal law seeks to protect."
On Saturday, September 3, construction crews from Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfers Partners bulldozed a section of land on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal reservation, including an area which members say featured tribal graves, prayer rings, and cairns (stone memorials). These sites were significantly rare preservations of the tribe's culture and history. Over Labor Day weekend, protesters who confronted those bulldozing and tearing up the land were met with private security guards who sprayed pepper spray and released attack dogs. According to NBC News, the clash ended with 30 people having been sprayed with pepper spray and six people suffering dog bites, including a child.
Pipeline advocates tout the use of pipelines as a safer and more efficient method of transporting crude oil, but USA Today reported in 2013 that hundreds of oil spills in North Dakota that happened over the course of two years were not even reported to the public. While most of these spills were small, they also include the 20,600-barrel (865,200 gallons) spill at a Tesoro Corp. pipeline on September 29, 2013, near Tioga, ND. That spill was not reported to the public for weeks. So the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not without cause for concern regarding a spill.
In 2014 the US Department of Transportation issued a warning that the crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale "may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil," and the Wall Street Journal reported later that year that the oil "scored high on a measure of volatility known as the Reid Vapor Pressure."
The tribe has gone to great lengths to oppose the construction of the pipeline that they feel could endanger their existence, their culture, and their history. Younger members of the tribe have established a campaign called "Rezpect Our Water" to oppose the pipeline. As a part of the campaign, 37 members of the tribe, mostly teenagers, ran about 2,000 miles from their reservation in North Dakota to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver a petition against the pipeline. The participants ran 30-70 miles a day for 18 days in order to call attention to and protest the project and the threat that it poses to their community.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is currently waiting on a legal decision from US District Judge James E. Boasberg, expected around September 9, 2016. The tribe has requested a preliminary injunction from the courts, which would temporarily halt the construction of the pipeline until the tribe's lawsuit could make its way through the legal process, which would allow the tribe to identify more "cultural and heritage resources" along the pipeline's route.
On Tuesday, September 6, a court decision halted work in one part of the pipeline construction but allowed for work to continue in the area through the sacred grounds of the Sioux Tribe.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe released this statement: "Today's denial of a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) west of Lake Oahe puts my people's sacred places at further risk of ruin and desecration. We are disappointed that the US District Court's decision does not prevent DAPL from destroying our sacred sites as we await a ruling on our original motion to stop construction of the pipeline."
You can join in support of the protestors by doing any of the following:
- Call or email your Congressional Representative or Senator.
- Sign this petition to the US Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to stop construction on the pipeline. This petition currently has over 244,000 signatures!
- Visit the Rezpect Our Water website and join their campaign. Read their letter to President Obama.
- Call (202-456-3182) or email Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff to the President; call (703-697-8986) or email Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of Army Corp of Engineers. Find message suggestions from the Tribe.
Josh Carson is Pastor of Student Ministries at First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, PA, and a Sider Scholar with the Sider Center & ESA while working on his M.Div. at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University.