Dakota Access Pipeline Conflict Intensifies


Leaders, elders and other members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe gather in solidarity to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

An ongoing controversy in North Dakota has been centered around the disputed proposal and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. After the proposal for the oil pipeline in 2014, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has emphatically opposed the project. Since as early as April, groups of American Indians have assembled in North Dakota in an attempt to halt the pipeline’s construction. 

New York Times reporter Jack Healy has been covering the Dakota Pipeline protests since late August.

“The battle over the pipeline has become an environmental and cultural flash point,” Healy wrote.

The Dakota oil pipeline was developed and proposed by Texas-based corporation Energy Transfer Partners.  The 1,170-mile pipeline is charted to run from North Dakota to Illinois, carrying 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day. There is an alleged upside to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, as it has been claimed that it has the potential to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Additionally, supporters of the $3.7 billion endeavor boast that it will provide over $156 million in tax revenue and will create between 8,000 and 12,000 construction jobs. 

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe consists of approximately 10,000 individuals in North and South Dakota. The Sioux tribe has repeatedly emphasized the severe cultural and environmental threats the pipeline poses to their community. Since the Sioux reservation is situated just south of the planned path for the pipeline, the tribe would be directly affected by any complications.

The pipeline is mapped to run beneath the Missouri River, which serves as the tribe’s primary water source. If the pipeline were to break, it would contaminate drinking water in the Missouri River, leaving the tribe without a viable water source. 

Adding to its controversial nature, the path of the pipeline encroaches on sacred ancestral grounds. Although these areas are not within boundaries of the Sioux reservation, they are the hunting, fishing and burial grounds of the Sioux’s ancestors. The Sioux assert that there was insufficient consideration of the risks and violations associated with the project.

Both protests and legal measures have been taken in an attempt to halt the pipeline operation. 

In August, the Sioux tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers, the group responsible for the approval of the pipeline’s proposal. According to the Sioux tribe, the Army Corps of Engineers violated both the National Historical Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy act by failing to consider the site’s cultural significance and the environmental implications of the pipeline.

Following these legal allegations, construction stopped temporarily around a 20-mile radius of Lake Oahe. However, this suspension was quickly overturned by a federal court, and construction continued.

Thousands of individuals, including members of over 200 Native American tribes and their allies have united in protest of the pipeline. Protesters gather at the construction site, and many camp nearby in tents and teepees on land owned by Energy Transfer Partners. Despite freezing winter temperatures, many protesters plan to hold their ground through the cold months in North Dakota.

Since August, 411 protesters have been arrested. 141 of these arrests were made by law enforcement in the past week. 

On October 27, authorities took action to begin the removal of pipeline protesters. This confrontation turned violent following a gunshot by a protester. 

Law enforcement responded by firing non-lethal “bean bag” rounds. Protesters have accused police officers of unnecessarily aggressive treatment. Police responses to protesters have also been reported to include pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion cannons and dogs. 

Although a Sioux tribal elder negotiated a ceasefire on October 28, many protesters still refuse to back down. 

Nationally recognizable figures including Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley have recently voiced their opposition to the pipeline project. Woodley was arrested in early October after joining the protest.

Following her arrest, Woodley wrote an article for Time Magazine in which she expressed outrage at the lack of media attention focused on the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.

“It took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on Oct. 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to bring this cause to many people’s attention,” Woodley said.

In a public statement at an anti-pipeline rally in Los Angeles, Sarandon elaborated on the dual nature of the protest.

“Not only is it an environmental [problem], but it’s a problem in terms of social justice,” Sarandon said.

The involvement of prominent figures has garnered publicity and increased public awareness of the controversy, which can be argued as a positive thing.