Obama administration halts Dakota Access Pipeline construction amid mass protests

Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has Native American tribes and environmental activists up in arms. The proposed oil pipeline would span 1,172 miles from the Bakken and Three Forks shale oil production sites in North Dakota to existing pipelines in Patoka, Illinois.

The pipeline’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, claims its $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline Project will create 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs during construction, as well as increased demand for those who manufacture the steel pipes, fittings, valves, pumps and control devices necessary for major pipelines. The pipeline would generate an estimated $50 million annually in property taxes and nearly $74 million in sales taxes to the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

According to Energy Transfer Partners, the North Dakota Bakken region has seen a significant increase in the production of crude oil, from 309,000 barrels per day in 2010 to 1 million barrels per day in 2014. With this increased production, Energy Transfer Partners says pipelines like Dakota Access are the safest, cheapest and most efficient means of accomplishing the transportation of crude oil.

Currently, a large portion of North Dakota and Canada’s crude oil is transported by railway. However, Energy Transfer Partners has pointed to disasters such as the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Canada as evidence for why the public should be concerned about transporting crude oil via railcar.

On July 6, 2013, an unattended freight train carrying Bakken Formation crude oil rolled down a 1.2 percent grade slope and derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, resulting in a fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more declared missing and presumed dead, and more than 30 buildings in the town’s center were destroyed. Fatal accidents such as the fire and explosion in Quebec could only happen with the above ground freight trains, not underground pipelines. However, this has not stopped the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota from taking legal action to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The reservation sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July, stating that they had not entered into any “meaningful consultation” with the tribe as required by law, and that it had ignored federal regulations governing environmental standards and historic preservation.

However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the pipeline does not cross the reservation. Acknowledging this, the Standing Rock Reservation said the Dakota Access Pipeline crosses sacred territory taken away from the tribe in a series of treaties that have been forced upon it over the past 150 years.

“This pipeline is going through huge swaths of ancestral land,” Dean DePountis, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s attorney, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It would be like constructing a pipeline through Arlington Cemetery or under St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

To add cause to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s case, the Dakota Access Pipeline was approved to cross under the Missouri River just a mile north of their reservation.

This has tribal leaders concerned, as the Missouri River is the source of water for the reservation’s 8,000 residents. This poses a major risk for tribe members as any leak would cause harm to their drinking water as well as the river’s ecosystem.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, pipelines are currently the safest mode of transporting crude oil. Energy Transfer Partners has said that the Dakota Access Pipeline would exceed federal safety standards and use the most advanced technology and monitoring systems to make it even safer.

Nevertheless, according to the Washington Post, tensions flared on Sept. 3 when Dakota Access workers plowed under two locations adjacent to the pipeline path that just a day earlier the tribe had identified in a court filing as sacred and historic sites. When tribe members and others tried to prevent construction, they were stopped by Dakota Access security workers who used guard dogs and pepper spray to drive unruly protestors back.

A spokesman for the tribe said six protesters were bitten, while the Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported that four security guards and two dogs were injured. More than 280 Native American tribes have since declared their support for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and many have sent food and supplies.

A map of which states the Dakota Access Pipeline will go through. (Graphics by Katie Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

A map of which states the Dakota Access Pipeline will go through. (Graphics by Katie Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

On Sept. 9, Judge James Boasberg of the D.C. District Court, who declined to stop the 1,100-mile project’s construction, said that the Army Corps of Engineers had sufficiently followed federal law in approving the pipeline, and that the tribe’s claim that the pipeline crossed archeological sites were moot since most of those sites were on private property. However, just minutes after the ruling, the Obama Administration moved in to temporarily block construction.

“Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe (the Missouri River) will not go forward at this time,” said a joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The Army Corps of Engineers will now move to “reconsider any of its previous decisions” regarding whether the pipeline respects federal law, especially the National Environmental Policy Act, the statement added.

But for some of the people who have been protesting against the pipeline for months now, they say that the Obama Administration has done too little, too late. The Sacred Stone Camp released a statement on warning against excitement over the Obama Administration’s halt on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“We have seen time and time again a consistent strategy from the State in these situations: string out the process, break it to us gradually to avoid a big confrontation, present the illusion of careful thoughtful review of the case, tempt us with promises of modest reforms,” the statement said. “But then, in the end, make the same decision that serves money not people.”