The face-off between the Standing Rock Sioux and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, LLC over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a story that continues to dominate headlines. The conflict boils down to opposing views on the development of an oil pipeline due to potential adverse affects on the environment and the Sioux way of life.
Dakota Access LLC is a minor branch of the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, a Texas oil pipeline company formed in 1995. They began developing an underground interstate pipeline earlier this spring after a few years of preparation and allocating $3.7 billion for the project. The pipeline is intended to be 1,172 miles long and stretch across four states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. According to the Dakota Pipeline Facts website, the pipeline is “designed to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day (with a growth potential up to 570,000 barrels per day) from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota to a terminus near Patoka, Illinois.”
The project was envisioned as a way to enable domestically produced oil to reach “major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and responsible manner.” If the United States can transport their own stores of oil faster, this raises the production of domestic oil to meet consumer needs, and thereby reduces the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Other projected economic benefits of the pipeline include the addition of 8,000 to 12,000 new jobs during construction. This means millions of dollars have the potential to go into state and local revenues. Information found on the Dakota Pipeline Facts website states the project would generate millions in property taxes. “The pipeline will 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 – for services to support schools, roads, emergency services and more.”
The Facts website also states the use of the pipeline would “help ease transportation shortages for agriculture and other industries,” which would allow agricultural businesses to save money on transportation costs.
According to CBS News, the protests against the pipeline’s construction by the Standing Rock Sioux began in April and the encampment on the worksite quickly grew to 1,000 people as of September.
The Standing Rock Sioux are a branch of the Great Sioux Nation and their reservation was originally established in 1868. Information found on StandingRock.org details how treaties made with the U.S. government in both 1851 and 1868 granted the Sioux the right to self-government as a sovereign nation. These treaties assure the Sioux “a government-to-government stance with the states and federal government entities” on issues pertaining to their land and certain policies.
The Sioux are protesting the pipeline mainly because construction will disturb protected sites and potentially affect drinking water for a population of over 8,000 people. According to the Standing Rock Litigation FAQ sheet, “the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) just a half a mile up-stream of the Tribe’s reservation boundary, where a spill would be culturally and economically catastrophic.”
The pipeline will also cross over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers as reported by SacredStoneCamp.org. If an oil spill were to occur from the pipeline and contaminate either the Missouri River or the Ogallala Aquifer, the results would be devastating to not just the Sioux’s water but to the entire country. Understandably because of this, some consider the Dakota Access Pipeline a national threat. The litigation FAQ sheet further explains “how the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burials that federal law seeks to protect.”
Another factor behind the protests is that the government did not properly consult with the Sioux before making the decision to allow development on tribal land. Since the Sioux are a nation unto themselves, they are entitled to be a part of the policy arrangements that concern their land. If the United States decided to develop on land in Canada without first discussing the matter with the Canadian government, there would certainly be public outrage.
What the country has been witnessing in the months since the protests began is a modern day example of the David and Goliath story. It’s the Standing Rock Sioux, led by tribal chairman Dave Archambault II, against the combined might of the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company and the backing of the US government which has a vested interest in the completion of the pipeline.
Energy Transfer Crude Oil is not backing down because they’ve already invested $3.7 billion in the project. Also, the pipeline was 60 percent completed as of September according to a memo sent by CEO Kelcy Warren. The Sioux are not yielding either, but for completely different reasons. Instead of monetary gain, the Sioux are only interested in preserving their culture and not having their ancestral land disturbed or disrespected, or having their drinking water contaminated if a spill should occur.
While Warren maintains the company met with 55 tribes including Standing Rock about the pipeline, Archambault claims, “they met with us after their plans were already made.”
In a memo sent to employees, the oil company also argues that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded.” However, there seems to be no dispute on the claim that construction will alter sacred grounds.
Detractors of the protests may believe the potential benefits of the pipeline, from job creation to lessening US dependence on foreign oil, outweigh the detriments to Native American culture and the Sioux way of life. In defiance of this viewpoint, one protester told NPR, “It’s about our rights as native people to this land. It’s about our rights to worship. It’s about our rights to be able to call a place home, and it’s about our rights to water.”