Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Dakota Access Pipeline: the big story with little coverage

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been slowly gaining news coverage. However, this is only after the outrage of many citizens that it was being overshadowed by the election and other news stories. Many people, myself included, wasn’t really aware of the protest against the pipeline until the protest had made Facebook news. I wasn’t really aware of the protests against the pipeline until the arrest of actress Shailene Woodley was a brief blimp on the news. Other celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon and even presidential candidate Jill Stein have protested against the pipeline. First, what is the Dakota Access Pipeline? Why are so many protesting against it? Lastly, what are the arguments for and against it?

The Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 172 miles, 30 inch diameter pipeline to connect production areas of Bakken and Three Forks, North Dakota to refineries in Patoka, Illinois. The idea is to reduce the current use of rail and truck transportation of crude oil and support domestic demand and reduce need of foreign oil. It was approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers and granted permits to the Energy Transfer Partners to build it. Energy Transfer Partners is a US Fortune 500 natural gas and propane company founded in 1995. The pipeline passes right by the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe has sued the Corp for threatening the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being” as well as damage and destruction of “great historic, religious and cultural significance to the Tribe” (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now has said that 100% of affected landowners in North Dakota voluntarily signed easements to allow the construction of the pipeline (Yan, CNN 10/28/16).

The first argument in support of the pipeline is it would be an “economic boon” as it would decrease reliance on foreign oil as well as free up railways to transport “corps and other commodities” which are “currently constrained by crude oil cargo” (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). According to Energy Transfer Partners, a second supportive argument for the pipeline is that it would bring an estimate $156 million in sales and income taxes to the state and local governments as well as add 8,000-12,000 construction jobs. A third supportive argument states the pipeline will help avoid disasters like the 2013 train wreck which crude oil destroyed downtown Lac-M├ęgnatic Quebec, Canada with the resulting fire (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). However, according to a LA Times editorial, the data shows that “while train and truck accidents might occur more often, pipeline breaks spill more oil and generally cause more damage to the environment by fouling ground water and wilderness areas” (11/3/16).

The first and main argument against the pipeline is it would destroy burial sites, prayers sites and culturally significant artifacts as well as other environmental concerns: possible contamination due to breeches and greenhouse (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). The pipeline has already been rerouted when other citizens of North Dakota rejected it in the interests of protecting communities and water. The Bismarck route was rejected by the US Army Corps to protect the wells that serve the municipal water supplies on the grounds that it would have been difficult to keep the pipeline 500 feet or more away from homes (Thorbecke, ABC 11/3/16). A second and important argument against the pipeline is a possible rupture under the Missouri River and contaminating the water supply (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). A portion of the pipeline will be under a dammed stretch of the Missouri River (LA Times Editorial, 11/3/16) and eight other pipelines are already being moved across the river with the risk of contamination, do we need another risk?

I will begin my thoughts with a quote from David Archambault III, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, “We’re not opposed to energy independence. We’re not opposed to economic development. The problem we have, and this is a long history of problems that evolved over time, is where the federal government or corporations take advantage of indigenous lands and indigenous rights” (Yan, CNN 10/28/16). This is a sad truth. While researching this topic, I came across some comments that claim the protestors didn’t materialize until after the project had been greenlighted and construction began. Another commenter claimed that the tribe was asked to participate in the site selection and they didn’t respond in time. Given the US government’s history with the treatment of indigenous people, I wouldn’t put it past them to say “hey, help plan but you have to respond by this date” and the letter was dated only days before the deadline. While an advocacy group has said that the tribe’s claims are misleading as the pipeline doesn’t cross into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation” (Yan, CNN, 10/28/16), you can see from the map that its very close and if a rupture were to happen, it would be devastating to the reservation lands near the pipeline.

In conclusion, somewhere in the middle is the truth. It is possible that the Standing Rock tribe was given a chance to respond. Maybe they ignored the chance until construction began. Maybe the chance to respond was unrealistic. Is it possible that both sides are twisting the truth to fit their cause? Of course, it’s possible. Bottom line is we didn’t need the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was defeated in 2008, and we don’t need the Dakota Access Pipeline. We especially don’t need it if it will possibly destroy sites which cannot be returned to their previous state in case of a rupture. Not just the possible destruction of beautiful sites but health and welfare of citizens are at risk too. Why does money always trump the health and welfare of our land and its people? On November 1st, Obama has stated that the Army Corps is investigating ways to re-route the pipeline to take into account the tribe’s concerns. With the Army Corps, the fate of the pipeline still rests. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that the money will outweigh the environment and the people and the construction will continue despite the protests and concerns.

LA Times Editorial Say No to the Dakota Access Pipeline, 11/3/16

Thorbecke, Catherine Why a Previously Proposed Route for the DAPL was Rejected, ABC 11/3/16

Yan, Holly Dakota Access Pipeline: What’s at stake? CNN 10/28/16