Ask Eartha: Natives unite against Dakota Access Pipeline
September 23, 2016
I have been reading about the protectionist movement in the Dakotas over the construction of an oil pipeline. Can you tell me more about what's going on and how I can help with the effort?
— Arthur, Dillon
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile pipeline designed to carry sweet crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to market in Illinois. With an estimated investment of $3.78 billion, the pipeline will be the largest project of its kind proposed in the American West since the Keystone XL pipeline was defeated. With a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels of oil per day, the pipeline would service Midwest and East Coast refining markets as well as the Gulf Coast. It's on track to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2016 and is estimated to support over 8,000 jobs during construction. Proponents argue that a pipeline would relieve the serious transportation issues the Midwest has experienced since the Bakken Dakota oil fields increased daily production to over 1 million barrels of crude in 2014. Those in favor also state that the pipeline will help the U.S. become more energy independent by closing the gap on foreign oil imports.
The problem is that the DAPL's route impacts local water sources. Specifically, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River near Lake Oahe, impacting the sole drinking water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They are leading a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for issuing permits on this project. The lawsuit claims that the U.S. Army Corps violated federal law when it issued the permits, including the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and the National Environmental Policy Act. On Sept. 9, a federal judge preliminarily upheld the Army Corps' position, but the Obama Administration stepped in and halted any further construction and issuing of permits within a 20-mile radius of Lake Oahe. In addition, the administration required further review of both the existing permits and the way in which permits are issued for major infrastructure projects. The move was considered a win in many circles.
But the court case and subsequent administrative action isn't the only thing making history. Native peoples have long expressed their vital role in protecting the Earth and its sacred resources, and now a rallying cry has been issued around the precious water in the Missouri River. Members of the Crow and Pawnee Nations have arrived in Standing Rock to show their support in the fight for clean water. This is significant because the Crow have not been welcomed on Sioux territory since 1876, when they allegedly scouted for Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. In the face of an "existential threat" posed by the DAPL, tribes that have been enemies for the majority of recent history have joined together at Sacred Stone, a nearby Sioux camp, to express solidarity in protecting Earth's sacred resources. Today, members from over 208 indigenous tribes have united with members from other grassroots groups to join the conversation about fossil fuel dependency and its global environmental impacts.
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Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.