Unicron Riot
May 23, 2016

Oil Company Undeterred by Protests on Standing Rock Reservation, Begins Construction

Samantha Hamilton

Construction began on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) earlier this week. Residents in the rural areas of the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois — where the pipe will run through — celebrated the thousands of new jobs the project would create and the new economic growth it would bring to their communities. Meanwhile, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fiercely protested the pipeline’s risk of an oil spill, which would contaminate the reservation’s only water source.

Standing Rock tribal members have been protesting the Dakota pipeline for months. They began the campaign Rezpect Our Water to inform people on how the seemingly profitable multibillion dollar project would mean disaster for the people of the Standing Rock reservation. The campaign website features video and letters from Standing Rock youth condemning DAPL:

“Our water isn’t the best. We don’t need it to be worse.”

—Anastasia White Mountain, 16

“I know you just want the money and everything but do you really want people hating you because you are helping to build the pipelines? Building the pipelines in the middle of our river is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life.”

—Alice Mae Iron Road, 14

“It is our land and has been our land since day one. It is our ancestors’ land, not yours.”

—Jeremy Allen Lester Jr., 14

DAPL will stretch 1,168 miles and connect pipelines in North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois, transporting about 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day. If DAPL ruptures, it will leak thousands of gallons of crude oil into the water that reservation residents rely on to cook, drink, and bathe in, poisoning the water beyond purification.

The Standing Rock Sioux reservation is the sixth-largest Indian reservation in the U.S., but DAPL’s potential effects on the reservation have been largely ignored by popular media. Several Hollywood stars have gotten behind the Rezpect Our Water campaign in an effort to increase its visibility, including Leonardo DiCaprio, a longtime environmental activist, and Jason Momoa, a native Hawaiian.

Several mainstream media outlets have been closely covering DAPL, but many articles focus on farmers’ concerns that the pipeline will not being finished soon enough. In a Des Moines Register article from May 12, one farmer says he wants the pipeline finished this year so that construction doesn’t extend into his 2017 crop year. He says it would interfere with his soil preparation and timeline for crop planting, resulting in lost yields.

While a delay in the pipeline construction would take a toll on some Midwestern states’ agriculture industries, the impacts would be mild in contrast to the Standing Rock reservation, where consequences would be much, much worse in the event of an oil spill.

The $3.8 billion pipeline has received permission for construction from three of the four states through which the pipe will run, with the exception being Iowa. Dakota Access filed a request with the Iowa Utilities Board two weeks ago to begin construction on land for which it has landowner approval and does not require federal permits. Iowa approved the project in March and the company hoped to get the green light to begin construction on Tuesday, but after stating that many landowners argued against the pipeline running through their property, the Iowa Utilities Board announced that it wanted more time to review comments and would delay its decision until further notice.

The U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers (USACE) has been assigned the task of ensuring that the pipeline will have no adverse effects on wildlife and natural resources. As of May 20, the USACE has not issued any permits, and yet Dakota Access has begun construction anyway, at least in areas that don’t require federal permits. But in order for the company to finish its project, it requires the USACE’s go-ahead.

More than 100,000 people have signed a Change.org petition started by 13-year-old Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer calling for the USACE to reject the DAP. YellowHammer is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and lives in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

“My friends and I have played in the river since we were little; my great grandparents raised chickens and horses along it,” YellowHammer’s petition reads. “With such a high chance that this pipeline will leak, I can only guess that the oil industry keeps pushing for it because they don’t care about our health and safety. It’s like they think our lives are more expendable than others’.”

Dakota Access claims, “Pipelines are the safest mode of transporting crude oil,” on its website. When compared to transportation by rail or by road, which carry strong potential for car accidents, derailment, and explosions, transportation by pipeline is the obvious safe choice. But that does not mean it is safe, and that does not mean it should be built across a water source.

There were 8,690 reported incidents of oil and brine spills in North Dakota’s oil industry between 2006 and 2014. Just this week, a saltwater-oil mixture spilled at a site operated by Denbury Onshore LLC in Marmath, North Dakota — a three-hour drive west of the Standing Rock reservation.

This is not a matter of if the Dakota Access Pipeline will leak. It’s a matter of when. And when it does leak, people’s lives will be radically changed for the worst. Access to clean water isn’t a privilege, it’s a human right. By building the pipeline, Dakota Access is declaring that it is more concerned with its profits than with Native lives.

The future of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation rests on the USACE’s decision. A rejection would stop the pipeline dead in its trenches and prevent irreparable damage. But if the USACE approves the pipeline, the people of Standing Rock will inevitably suffer. Hundreds of oil spills occur every year; it would be foolish to think one couldn’t happen in the Missouri River. The Lakota people have faced and continue to face excessive abuse from their state governments, and they can’t afford to be abused any more. The USACE needs to reject the DAP, or it risks putting the entire Standing Rock reservation in harm’s way.