Water is life. The mantra stares up from signs on the side of the road as we drive up to the camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. We can see the flags of all the tribes present flapping in the wind. Before us are acres upon acres of tents and teepees stretching in all directions.
As we set up our tent, a man named Jason approaches us and welcomes us to the movement. He thanks us for our contributions and asks us to be respectful of the customs and ceremonies within the camp. We grab some dinner and head to the main prayer fire where we listen to elders preach love and nonviolence. Throughout the whole camp is a prevailing sense of unity and purpose. Over 200 tribes have come together along with many non-native people in order to deliver one clear message: The Dakota Access Pipeline is both a miscarriage of justice and an environmental concern that affects everyone, not just native peoples.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires an environmental impact statement before pipelines can be built. This is a report that investigates the effects of the pipeline and the alternatives that are available. So far, however, Energy Transfer Partners – the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline – has not taken the time to write such a statement. So how did the pipeline receive a federal permit to start construction without such a vital (and required) piece of research? By filing the pipeline under what is referred to as Nationwide Permit 12.
Joseph Urbentraut, a Huffington Post reporter, described the permit: “It’s essentially a blanket permit for pipelines up to a half-acre of impact, a pre-issued permit. The Corps has begun treating these 1,200-mile pipelines like a series of half-acre projects that each qualify under that exemption. This is a general permit that doesn’t mention oil spills or climate impacts and never talks about Native American tribes and cultural significance and sacred sites.”
So, Energy Transfer Partners has avoided completing an environmental impact study on the pipeline by claiming it is simply a series of 1,536,000 half-acre segments that each qualify under the Nationwide Permit 12 exemption.
The route of the Dakota Access Pipeline was originally set to cross the Missouri River to the north of Bismarck, North Dakota. This plan was later disqualified by the Army Corps of Engineers because of the proximity it would have had to one of the city’s municipal water source wellheads. The pipeline’s course was then altered due to concerns of pollution of the citizens of Bismarck’s water.
However, the same precaution has not been extended to the communities on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The new route crosses Lake Oahe, a part of the Missouri River, located only 500 feet from the reservation’s border. Along with its proximity to the reservation, Lake Oahe and the Missouri River are also the only water sources that the reservation has access to in the state of North Dakota. So is it in any way justifiable to risk polluting the water source of the reservation after altering the course of the pipeline to protect the water source of Bismarck? Shouldn’t both groups be entitled to equal protection?
As if the pipeline wasn’t causing enough unrest with the residents at Standing Rock, pipelines in general are detrimental to the environment, both because they are an investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and because they are inherently unreliable. Statistics indicate that in the United States there have been over 200 crude oil spills in the last three years. The equipment used to detect these spills will only register a spill if it is over two percent of the total amount of oil flowing through the pipeline.
To put that in perspective, the Dakota Access Pipeline will be pumping 470,000 barrels of oil a day. A two percent spill would mean 9,400 barrels of oil leaking into Lake Oahe every single day. Anything under that amount would go undetected and spill into the lake for an undetermined amount of time. Once in the lake, oil not only threatens the water source of the indigenous people, but will flow into the Missouri River. The Missouri River is a tributary for the Mississippi River. This equates to 9,400 barrels of oil in a river that more than 50 cities rely on for their daily water supply.
This is not a Standing Rock problem. This is an American problem, and the two are one and the same.
Lucas Womack ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Albany, Minn. His major is undecided.