Efforts to stop the buildings of pipelines has succeeded in killing four pipelines and Indigenous people are leading the charge to protect the land from America’s newest mega-pipeline. No one seemed to have noticed as the the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL, aka the Bakken Pipeline) quietly received regulatory permission to begin construction. The last state permit was handed out in March and the final hurdle was cleared in July when the The US Army Corps of Engineers gave its blessing. However, it should be pointed out that the Corp. did not do an environmental impact statement, because as a utility it is automatically classified “minimal impact.”
Protests against DAPL have has been going on for some time now. but they intensified as construction began early in September. Environmental groups like the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, a collective of 30-plus environmentalists’ and landowners’ associations as well as others are fighting against the building of the pipeline.
DAPL is a $3.78 billion project that is being built by Dakota Access, LLC, a unit of the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. This 1,168 mile oil pipeline would snake its way from the Bakken Fields in North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois. The 30-inch diameter pipeline would funnel up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
The building process and the statistical likelihood of numerous spills over the course of the life of the pipeline virtually assures adverse impacts on the land and the water. As Sierra Club’s Michael Brune puts it, “It’s not a question if a pipeline will malfunction, but rather a question of when.”
River spills are not uncommon. In 2011 an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured and spilled crude into the Yellowstone River in south central Montana. Repeated spills by the same company suggest that there are glaring weaknesses baked into the system.. Just as a new US pipeline safety law came into effect in June, there was another spill. The number of fossil fuel spills in 2015 alone is staggering.
The major companies that have invested in DAPL are Energy Transfer Partners, Phillips 66 and Enbridge Inc. The latter is Canada’s largest pipeline company, operating some 50,000 miles of pipelines across the continent. Enbridge is responsible for hundreds of spills including one of the worst in American history. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spewed 1.2 million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River. Due in part to massive protests.
In the last year fossil fuel pipelines are falling like flies. First was the Keystone XL, then the Northern Gateway, the Sandpiper Pipeline and the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline from upstate New York to Dracut. On September 6th, a federal judge granted a partial victory to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to temporarily stop work on a portion of the DAPL.
Defending the land
Indigenous defenders are heartened by the demise of these pipelines. However, they have vowed to continue to oppose DAPL until it is abandoned altogether. Their dedication is born out of the realization that their entire ecosystem is at risk. DAPL crosses under native territory including The Great Sioux Nation. A spill could contaminate the Missouri River, a waterway that local inhabitants depend upon.
People are outraged that indigenous people in places like Standing Rock were not even mentioned in the original environmental assessment. This type of flagrant disregard has fueled opposition including a gathering of several thousand people in St. Paul.
There was a 500-mile relay to Washington in which native youth delivered a petition with 160,000 signatures of people who oppose the pipeline’s construction. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have also launched a social media campaign and petition called “Rezpect Our Water”. The #NoDAPL Global Weeks of Action campaign started on September 3 and runs through to September 17th.
Recently protestors camped near the town of Cannon Ball began physically blocking the pipeline’s construction using only their bodies to defend sacred burial grounds from bulldozers. A private security company unleashed attack dogs to intimidate protestors. A number of people have reportedly been bitten and many others have been pepper-sprayed.
Construction of DAPL appears to be poised to move forward even thought the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Historic Preservation issued statements calling for a reassessment of environmental impacts including Standing Rock.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is among those who oppose the pipeline. Opposition also comes from celebrities like the cast of the new television series Justice League.