Last Monday, many celebrated the suspension of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction. The DAPL is a 1,200mi (1,900km) long pipeline running from North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ending in Illinois. It has transported about 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day across the four states since May 2017. Why is the pipeline so controversial?
The construction of the DAPL is affecting the livelihood of the Standing Rock Sioux, surrounding wildlife, and the control that big oil has over society. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, or Íŋyaŋ Woslál Háŋ in Lakota, is home to over 8,000 Lakota and Dakota Sioux, located in North and South Dakota of the United States. Standing Rock Reservation is inhabited by:
- Sihasapa (Blackfoot) and Hunkpapa (Campers at the Horn) bands of Lakota
- Ihunktuwona (Little End Village) Dakota
- Hunkatina (Cut Heads) Dakota
Standing Rock is the 5th largest reservation in the country, and is also the birthplace of Tatanka Iyotake, or known by many as Sitting Bull. He is known as one of the Lakota’s greatest warriors and medicine men.
Sunoco Logistics, the company in charge of the DAPL, is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. The company is run by CEO Kelcy Warren, who fundraised for Donald Trump’s presidency (Bloomberg News). Sunoco needed a permit to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River directly north of Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, due to the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, which guarantee undisturbed use and occupation of the land to the Sioux. The 1851 Treaty set a permanent reservation for Sioux in exchange for the Oregon Trail. Referencing the 1851 Treaty, nearly all of the pipeline is on unseated Sioux land (Rebel HQ), meaning that even though it can’t be lived on, the land still belongs to the Sioux. The 1868 Treaty further specified that the Missouri River was included in Sioux territory.
The news of DAPL retiring was not celebrated by all; Supporters of the pipeline claim that the pipeline lowered transportation costs, Increased energy security, boosted economic growth, and created 8,000–12,000 jobs by its construction. They also claimed that local economies (of locals outside the reservations) benefited from workers using hotels, motels, restaurants, and other services.
The river is the only water supply for Standing Rock, and protests against DAPL officially began in October 2014 (Des Moines Register). When pipeline ruptures occur, crude oil contamination is detrimental to the surrounding environment, as well as anything downstream. Spills will cause water contamination, affecting the 17 million who rely on the water to be drinkable. In the case of DAPL, Standing Rock Sioux would be left with no clean water, jeopardizing one of the most essential sources needed for life. Over 380,000 gallons of oil were spilled in November of 2019, and it impacted nearby wetland habitats. That’s equal to the acreage of over half a football field! There were also over 200 leaks caused by Sunoco Logistics from 2010 to 2016 (PBS), which is another concern for Standing Rock. The pipeline is an extensive environmental justice issue, as we have seen with the effects of water contamination in other locations such as Flint, Michigan.
After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permits needed to build DAPL underneath the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe, many celebrated. The DAPL was suspended due to environmental concerns, requiring a more extensive review of the ecological impacts caused by the pipeline. To reverse the suspension decision, Trump would have to go through the courts. However, this victory is still only a temporary success, since the Corps will still be looking for other future pipeline routes.
The protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as “Water Protectors” have demonstrated what can be achieved when we come together around a resource sacred to us all, as water is the most essential substance for our survival. After all, this is not only a Sioux issue, nor only an Indigenous issue, but truly also a human issue. The act of retiring the Dakota Access Pipeline will be celebrated for generations to come.