We explain what happens when an energy company LITERALLY wants to build something on an ancient Indian burial ground!
News of the North Dakota Access Pipeline has gotten more-and-more media coverage over the last few weeks. With groups of protesters looking to camp out on the disputed site through winter, the debate over the North Dakota Access Pipeline doesn’t look to be going anywhere. So to help unpack all of this, here’s our 10-Point Expert.
(Update 11/22/16: Violence near the pipeline sight has escalated in the past few days. Police and around 400 people have clashed near the pipeline’s construction with the police going to such lengths as shooting water cannons at protesters in below freezing temperatures, throwing tear gas, and using rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. While police has maintained their tactics were valid due to the protesters getting “highly aggressive”, the recent clashes have sent many protesters to the hospital. The increase in clashes are a result of the police not letting protesters cross a bridge that leads to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land to the north of the original contested site.)
Point 1: Like the much debated Keystone Pipeline XL, North Dakota Access Pipeline (NDAP) is a crude oil pipeline that would stretch 1,134 miles underground from North Dakota to Illinois. Dakota Access, the energy company spearheading the pipeline’s construction, estimates that it would send around 470,000 barrels of crude oil-a-day, which would be sent to refineries then turned into usable fuel.
Point 2: Generally speaking, underground pipelines like NDAP don’t get much media attention. While there are always a few rural communities that raise concerns over the construction of these pipelines – due to the potential water and soil contamination these oil pipelines bring to the ecosystem that it goes under – but for the most part, they tend to get quietly built with little fanfare.
Point 3: The reason the NDAP is getting such strong opposition (and such major media coverage) has to do with the pipeline going through a portion of Sioux County (an Indian reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe). They’re claiming the creation of the pipeline hurts the Standing Rock Sioux in two ways; (1) the pipeline goes through the reservation’s main source of drinking water, which potentially could be disastrous if there ever was an oil leak and (2) the pipeline would run under a site the Standing Rock Sioux consider sacred due to recently discovered artifacts pointing to it being an ancient burial ground for the tribe.
Point 4: After the back-and-forth arguments between Dakota Access and the Standing Rock Sioux , the conflict came to a head as news of the battle started to gain mainstream press. Many Native American groups across the country started to make their way to Sioux County in hopes of blocking the creation of NDAP in that area. Similar to how many environmentalists had blocked the creation of the Keystone Pipeline XL last year, many demonstrators supporting the Standing Rock Sioux hope to do the same with the NDAP.
Point 5: While similarities between the NDAP and Keystone Pipeline XL are obvious, it’s important to realize the NDAP protest is very different on a more fundamental level. The core frustration with the NDAP stems from the historically strained relationship between the US government and Native American tribes over the idea of tribal sovereignty. The idea of tribal sovereignty stems from the agreement between the federal government and Native American tribes that their reservations would be “domestic dependent nations”, essentially having the ability to govern themselves within those borders. For example, it’s the reason casinos and other gambling operations happen more often on tribal lands, because tribal sovereignty allows looser gaming restrictions than compared to state and federal gaming laws. In terms of NDAP, the Sioux Tribe felt negations over the pipeline’s placement should have taken place between government-to-government.
Point 6: The idea of tribal sovereignty was the basis of the lawsuit between the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Standing Rock Sioux. In their official legal complaint – which was filed on July 27th of this year – the Standing Rock Sioux claim the Army Corps of Engineers had basically approved the project using outdated archeological maps and met with them to only pay lip service. While the case is currently in District Court, legal experts agree that it’s going to take months for the courts to reach a resolution.
Point 7: NDAP’s opposition is fundamentally different (and much more complicated) than Keystone Pipeline XL ever was. The majority of the opposition regarding the Keystone Pipeline XL has to do with environmental matters, but the NDAP’s opposition goes much deeper than that as it deals with the troubled issue of the US government recognizing tribal sovereignty.
Point 8: Now add to that the various groups joining the protest at Sioux County, ranging from environmentalists (who just want to stop ANY oil pipelines from getting built) to young liberals (they feel “Big Energy” is using the claim of eminent domain improperly) to even Black Lives Matter protesters (African-Americans sympathizing with Native Americans who’ve been historically marginalized by the US government) and you start to realize that there are many intersecting motives for stopping the NDAP.
Point 9: Though all of this doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t supporters in favor of NDAP. Recently Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO Kelcy Warren – the parent company of Dakota Access – vowed that his company would be finishing the project saying that it’s already 60% complete with the company having spent $1.6 billion on the project thus far. Warren’s reasoning for wanting to complete the project – other than the money already spent on the NDAP – range from his company already meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux (claiming they took their concerns into account years before construction) to claiming a natural gas pipeline already exists on the pipeline’s route to state archeologists already examining the sites saying no significant sites would be affected with the NDAP.
Point 10: A few weeks ago the Standing Rock Sioux (with the nonprofit group Earthjustice) asked for a court injunction to halt construction of the pipeline while the case was being decided, but was denied by a federal judge. Luckily for the NDAP protesters, the Obama administration has put a stop on all construction in the disputed area so it can be reevaluated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Dakota Access continues to push the construction in other parts of the pipeline, while reports have protesters migrating to those areas to halt construction. As it stands right now, this situation doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon.
(Photo Credit: @MariaIsa on Twitter, Energy Transfer LLC)