Other stories filed under OPINION
Oil Isn’t For Drinking
Commentary by Ethan Adato
December 9, 2016
Oil companies have been putting down pipelines for decades. Oftentimes, they’ve had to fight local residents in order to go through with their construction, but they’ve almost always managed to go through with their projects. The Dakota Access Pipeline, so far, has been a different story. Worldwide resistance to the pipeline led to massive backlash that resulted in a temporary halt to building. The Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation is right next to the pipeline, with the support of hundreds of other tribes and thousands of people worldwide, have been protesting and obstructing the construction of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
According to the the DAPL website, it is a proposed 1,172 mile pipeline that is supposed to carry 470,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The DAPL is estimated to earn about 129 million dollars annually. The vast majority of the DAPL profits will end up in the pockets of Energy Transfer owner, Kelcy Warren. Warren’s net worth is 4 billion dollars.
Although the DAPL is supposed to be a massive source of money, it really brings a host of problems with it. One issue is that the builders of the pipeline, Energy Transfer, used the law of eminent domain to take land from its owners in order to build the pipeline. Although they offer to pay the owners back for the land, many of them resent getting no say in the price paid or whether they wanted to sell the land in the first place. The Standing Rock Sioux also object to the pipeline cutting through their sacred land.
The planned route of the pipeline travels underneath the Missouri river, posing a potential major health hazard. If the pipeline leaks even a small amount, it would not only contaminate the drinking water of the tribe, it would also threaten the drinking water of everyone along the river.
Energy Transfer argues that their pipeline is built to never leak, however, there is significant evidence that it will. According to the PHMSA (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), there have been over 5,675 serious pipeline leaks across the country since 1996. These have resulted in 347 deaths, 1,346 injuries and over $7,542,390,190 in damages. With 308 leaks in 2015 alone, it is clear that it isn’t a question of if the Dakota Access Pipeline will leak; the question is when. When this happens, it will send oil directly into the Missouri river that would threaten the drinking water of millions of people. According to the DAPL website, the pipeline will be carrying sweet crude oil.
Crude oil, when spilled, poses a serious threat to mammals. The oil becomes a sludge in the water and can be very hard to clean up. If the DAPL spewed crude oil into the Missouri river, it could ruin the drinking water for everyone downstream from the leak. In fact, the first proposed route of the DAPL traveled north of Bismarck, North Dakota but was moved closer to the Sioux reservation away from Bismarck after citizens in the city expressed concerns that the pipeline could endanger their water supply. This move illustrates the widespread belief that the pipeline could leak along with showing that Energy Transfer and their sponsors do not care about the well being of the Native Americans. The route move away from Bismarck to right next to the Sioux has caused massive controversy and helped to spark thousands of protesters.
Although thousands of American citizens have joined the protests, many celebrities including Shailene Woodley, Ben Affleck, Pharrell Williams, and Leonardo Dicaprio have stood up against the DAPL with Woodley being arrested during her time protesting. On December 3rd, members of Green Day, Guns n Roses, Radiohead, Queen, Paramore, and Pink Floyd, among many others, signed a letter against the developing of this pipeline. According to Rolling Stone, the letter reads, “We are deeply disturbed by the police actions that have been taking place, where non-violent protests have been and continue to be met with extremely aggressive tactics including: being shot with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, chemical weapons, rubber bullets and attack dogs. These are the same inhumane methods used during WWII and the civil rights movement.”
The Sioux led the opposition to the protests and were the first to start protesting. The pipeline faced multiple road blocks and protester camps. The protests have been especially controversial due to the vicious police response. Private security hired by the pipeline launched attack dogs at protesters and their horses, resulting in numerous bites to people and horses alike.
Police have repeatedly used sound cannons to try to burst protester’s ears causing multiple injuries. According to reporter Dallas Goldtooth, on November 21st, police used water cannons to douse protesters during sub zero temperatures giving over 130 citizens hypothermia.
Officers have repeatedly tried to shoot down drones filming them throughout the protests. According to the ACLU, over 70 police departments sent troops and equipment to use on protesters. Police have also deliberately targeted journalists with rubber bullets. In footage from the Huffington post, a journalist was in the middle of an interview when a sniper shot her in the back with a rubber bullet. Rubber bullets were also fired into the face of protesters causing eye injuries. One protester, according to the Bismarck emergency room, was struck by a tear gas canister to the face and will never be able to see through one eye again.
The most aggressive police action occurred November 26th, 2016 when police threw a concussion grenade at a crowd and nearly blew a woman’s arm off. Concussion grenades are non-lethal when thrown near people but thrown directly at people, they can cause grievous injury. Currently, the woman’s doctor is considering amputation.
The police violence was so extreme that UN human rights observers were dispatched to watch the police response to protesters. The governor of North Dakota decreed that all protesters must leave. According to NPR, the governor stated his reasoning is due to safety concerns. This contradicts his record of disregard for protesters health, notably allowing his police to give hundreds of protesters hypothermia, along with many brutal injuries. He also blocked all supplies from coming into the camps which seems to come into conflict with his concern for protester safety. The governor has told emergency services to only consider responding to 911 calls by protesters on a case by case basis.
The police were also trying to get rid of protesters by accusing them of federal crimes that they didn’t commit in order to hold them and delay their release. Over 100 federal charges were thrown out by North Dakota courts who have been overwhelmed with the 450 arrested protesters. At least three protesters are currently suing the Morton County Sheriff Office for their use of excessive force.
The Morton County Sheriff Office, which lead the police effort in defending the pipeline acknowledged that they received monetary offers from oil companies to remove protesters.
On December 4th, the Army Corps of Engineers declined to give Energy Transfer the permits needed to build underneath the lake used by the Sioux for water and the Missouri river. This is a massive blow to the pipeline and now they have been forced to reroute the pipeline or wait for an environmental impact study (EIS) to be completed. An EIS is supposed to be completed before every major pipeline, but Energy Transfer reported to officials that the DAPL was a combination of many small projects which allowed them to escape performing an EIS on the project.
The reason for the Army’s decision is believed to be because over 6,000 veterans planned to arrive on December 5th. These veterans planned to rotate on three shifts and have 2,000 veterans act as a human shield for the protesters against police attack. The presence of so many vets at the protests would prompt mainstream media sources such as CNN and Fox to question the DAPL as well as the police assaults on protesters. In order to avoid this, the Army, working with the DAPL, decided to avoid the situation by denying the permits.
On December 6th, protesters plan to celebrate their victory and figure out their next steps. Although the DAPL has been at least temporarily halted, Energy Transfer plans to appeal for the permits they need. Energy Transfer is also counting on president elect Donald Trump to fast track their project. Trump personally has 2 million dollars invested in Energy Transfer which creates a major conflict of interest but nonetheless, many believe that as president he will do all he can to get the DAPL built and get more cash flowing up to the rich oil tycoons and himself. Protesters have decided that only local protesters will stay and the rest will go home for now. Updates will follow and if protests begin again, links will be provided to their support websites. If Trump does reinstate the DAPL permits, protesters will almost certainly return, and they will need support especially if police act the way they have in the past.