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The Real Impact of the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Staff Writer Taylor Veracka ‘18

If you look at, the website created by the organization responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the project sounds like a positive undertaking. The information reads optimistically:  the 1,172-mile pipeline, meant to span from North Dakota to Illinois, will transport “domestically produced” crude oils from ND to refineries in a “direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner.” The project’s owner, Energy Transfer Partners, goes on to state  “protecting landowner interests and the local environment is a top priority.” However, this information is not at all reflective of the opposing side of the story.

Though only recently receiving mass attention, protests against the pipeline have been ongoing for over two years, since the project was first proposed in 2014. Until April, it was mainly the Sioux natives from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota that voiced their opposition, since they would be directly impacted by the pipeline. But about seven months ago, a small group of demonstrators began a more public protest by praying on the reservation. Since this point, thousands of people have been to and taken part in protesting at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the pipeline, including actress Shailene Woodley, who was famously arrested while protesting at the construction site, and actor Mark Ruffalo. According to the LA Times, there are currently about eight hundred active protesters.

The Sioux’s main issue with the pipeline is twofold:  it will not only run right through many of their sacred burial grounds, but it could also ruin the reservation’s water supply. If the pipeline leaks, it could flood the Mississippi River with crude oil, rendering the tribe’s only available water supply unusable. The Sioux actually went to federal court earlier this year with their grievance, saying “the construction and operation of the pipeline…threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe.” They also claim they were not properly consulted about the project beforehand. In regards to the environmental threats, this could be a violation of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers if Energy Transfer Partners failed to properly consult the tribe beforehand. This was disputed by Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) who claims that a consultation did occur.

Unfortunately, the DAPL workers went ahead with construction before a verdict was passed on the injunction asked for by the Sioux, which effectively destroyed some burial sites. As of now, the project is continuing, despite a recent uptake in protests from around the country. When it was rumored that the North Dakota Police Department was using Facebook check-ins to find and arrest pipeline protesters, millions took to their accounts to check-in to the Standing Rock Reservation in order to flood the system with too much information to weed through. The sheriff has denied these allegations, but nevertheless, this shows that the country is overall behind a stoppage of pipeline construction.

Sadly, this is not a particularly new occurrence. One doesn’t need to look hard into the annals of history to see that this is just one of many injustices done to Native Americans since the very beginning of European colonization. Back in 1958, the Army Corps of Engineering took Standing Rock Sioux land without the consent of the tribe to create a damn, destroying wildlife and rendering the land unusable to the Sioux. Aside from land and jurisdiction concerns, Native Americans face discrimination that is deeply harming their way of life. Schools on reservations are seriously underfunded, and most exist in varying states of deterioration. Only about half of Native school children graduate high school. Unemployment and poverty are exponentially higher than the national average. Indian Health Services, the organization created in order to provide Natives Americans with health care, is also drastically underfunded and oftentimes cannot provide basic services, which puts Native Americans at a severe disadvantage, especially for a population with high levels of obesity, diabetes, substance abuse issues, and STDs. Clearly, what is going on with the Dakota Access Pipeline is not just another example of Native American interests being ignored, but a symptom of a larger and more pressing issue of discrimination against Native Americans. There are many arguments for the pipeline, and it could provide real benefits such as creating over 8,000 American jobs, and easing US dependence on foreign oil. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that organizers have effectively ignored the very people the project will affect most in order to accomplish its goals.

With all the chaos surrounding the DAPL it’s hard to make out what exactly is the truth and what is not. There are some things that are strikingly clear, however. The Sioux Nation feel that they have been done (yet another) injustice by the US government. They feel their culture and environmental health is at risk, and that they are being taken advantage of. Clearly, many Americans agree. Regardless of the economic benefits of the pipeline, it is important to recognize the problems that the Sioux are facing, and to remember that the majority of the people making political decisions on oil transportation do not completely understand tribal connections to their land. This pipeline represents another opportunity to exploit already endangered and disadvantaged population, and their voices must be considered with the same weight as economic concerns.  

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