Washington Denies Construction of Intrusive Pipeline

Washington Denies Construction of Intrusive Pipeline

By Caroline Zhu

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile-long pipeline that would pump 470,000 to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Funded by 17 various banks and co-owned by Dakota Access LLC as well as Phillips 66, this controversial pipeline travels right through Lake Oahe, which is located in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Supporters of the Pipeline claim that it will boost the economy, create more jobs, and help the U.S. become more self-sufficient. 

The Public Service Commission approved the project on January 20th of this year, and on July 20th, the Army Corp of Engineers issued a permit which kicked off the construction of the pipeline in 200 sites. In the following weeks, the Standing Rock tribe filed a number of motions in an attempt to stop the construction, including a restraining order to “prevent the destruction of sacred sites,” and a lawsuit against the USACE (United States Army Corp of Engineers). 

Because of its contentious location, the Pipeline has quickly become the center of controversy. Many are concerned about the Pipeline potentially poisoning or compromising Lake Oahe, which is the reservation’s main water source. Many also consider the project disrespectful and intrusive as Sioux members have spoken out strongly against the project, iterating that the land is considered culturally important, even sacred.

The Pipeline was originally supposed to cross through Bismarck, a mostly-white community. Allegedly, the Pipeline was rerouted when Bismarck residents protested to a pipeline passing close to their water source; however, this claim seems to be mostly unfounded. The USACE cites a number of various reasons for rerouting the pipeline, dubbing Bismarck a “high-consequence area”-- essentially meaning that an oil spill in Bismarck would have far more adverse consequences than an oil spill in Lake Oahe. Additionally, the Bismarck route would run eleven miles longer than the current route and would cross through multiple waterways. 

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that while a Snopes.com article claims that “the decision to abandon that route came from a planning party, and did not appear to have anything to do with one set of residents being heard while a second set was ignored”, the USACE held a public hearing meeting to heed to the voices of Native Americans. The outcome? Everyone who spoke at the meeting rejected the project.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is inextricably related to race and class. Native Americans have faced historical and modern-day mistreatment and marginalization, and the Pipeline fiasco, to many Americans, only helps fuel the growing unrest at the mistreatment of minorities in this country. 

One source claims that protests in the region against the Pipeline began as early as March or April, and the same source claims that the first arrests of demonstrators in the region were made on August 10. People from as far away as Mongolia stand in solidarity, and, barely more than a week ago, 2,000 US veterans joined protests at Standing Rock. Thousands of people have traveled across the state to join Native Americans in an astounding show of unanimity and have raised awareness for the issue on social media, including many celebrities such as Shailene Woodley, Mark Ruffalo, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

However, some call these self-proclaimed “water protectors” “angry mobs.” Numerous human rights violation allegations have arisen over the last couple of months, especially as publicity and awareness for the issue grows. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested, including Shailene Woodley who had actually attended the protests. People have questioned the methods used to placate and/or detain protesters. Reports have arisen of protesters being numbered then held in mesh cages similar to dog kennels, aggressive police dogs being used (illegally) on land not owned by Dakota Access LLC. (including a report of a dog biting a young girl who happened to be at the protest), intrusive searches, and the use of rubber bullets, water cannons (in freezing temperatures, increasing the risk of hypothermia), pepper spray, tear gas, compression grenades, and sound cannons. 

Police have justified their actions by claiming that they were simply reacting to protesters. Accounts of protesters growing hostile have emerged from the police, including a gun fired at police officers, protesters setting fire to debris, and throwing molotov cocktails at police officers. Protesters have created significant blockages along major highways. 

Yet the United Nations have denounced police officers’ actions on the DAPL protests, calling the use of force “excessive.”

Recently, news of the Dakota Access Pipeline has made headlines as the USACE, most likely giving into pressure from protesters, denied easement, meaning that they no longer give permission to Dakota Access LLC. to continue construction on that land. 

Many people theorize that Dakota Access LLC. will simply continue with pipeline construction and will pay the $50,000/day fee, especially as the pipeline is already mostly completed. 

Following the USACE’s announcement, 2,000 protesters gathered and continued their demonstrations, despite withdrawn threats to remove protesters.

Hundreds of demonstrators gather on major highways to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Hundreds of demonstrators gather on major highways to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The USACE’s denial of easement is only a minor victory--people against the Pipeline still have a lot to accomplish. 

Nonetheless, the DAPL protests were a demonstration of the power of social media. News outlets who reported on this issue were few and far between; many published on small, less trustworthy sites. Some have claimed that many journalists were banned or removed from reporting on this issue. The majority of testimonials and awareness was raised on various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube. People managed to organize themselves and enact real, tangible change with strangers via the Internet. 

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