Victoria Bistarkey | Contributor
In early December, police at Standing Rock, North Dakota followed orders to finally pack away the weapons they had been using to subdue the Water Protectors since early 2016. They turned off the hoses, capped their pepper spray, packed the rubber bullets and called off the dogs. After many months spent protesting under brutal weather conditions and inhumane violence committed by the police, the Water Protectors and their allies appeared to have reached their goal: the Dakota Access Pipeline construction was halted.
According to initial plans, the Dakota Access Pipeline would cross beneath the Missouri River and run through a half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, carrying roughly 570,000 barrels of shale oil from places like North Dakota to Illinois. While the Energy Transfer partners, the owner of the pipeline, have touted the project for its potential to create jobs and aid the local economy, the suggested positives pale in comparison to the environmental concerns of the Water Protectors and their allies. If built, the pipeline is likely bring disastrous environmental damage, including widespread water pollution (thus the Water Protectors’ name). Pipelines are particularly prone to this sort of malfunction: several pipeline-related oil spills have occurred only in the past two weeks.
On December, 4, 2016 it seemed like victory was within reach when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided not to issue the easement Energy Transfer Partners needed to drill under Lake Oahe, a half mile upstream from the reservation. Their plan, they said, was to look for alternative routing under an Environmental Impact Statement, a document that would list and describe any possible effects a proposed plan can have on an environment and possible ways to lessen those negative effects. Preemptively skeptical, many of the Water Protectors remained at the Sacred Stones Camp in case the operator decided to ignore the pipeline halt.
Their instinct has proven correct: Little over a month after the pipeline’s progress halted, newly-instated President Donald Trump has issued an executive order to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, rejected under President Obama. Obama’s initial rejection of the Keystone XL intended to move the United States away from reliance on carbon energy and address concerns about climate change. Unfortunately, Trump has made his stance on climate abundantly clear, claiming skepticism about the validity of human-induced climate change and at one point even promising to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) altogether. In addition, he is a known ally of the fossil fuel industry, in spite of unproven claims that he has sold off his shared stock of Energy Transfer Partners, which was estimated between $500,000 to $1,000,000. He was even called on by the American Petroleum Institute President and CEO to make the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline a priority when he took office — a request that he has clearly acted on.
Since the beginning of the approval for the permit in January of 2016, the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have taken many legal and reactionary measures to counteract the building of the pipeline, and efforts will continue in spite of the recent executive order. Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock Tribe chairman, issued a statement concerning the existing pipeline route, the infringement of their treaty rights, and the contamination of water for their reservation and many others. The Indigenous Environmental Network has also stated that they are ready to mobilize against Trump’s decisions for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Backed by many celebrities, protestors across the nation, and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Water Protectors and people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are not prepared to give up.
While the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers once represented a major victory for the Water Protectors and their allies who fought for the right of their land and safety of their homes, ecosystems, and water, the fight is far from over. Trump’s executive order could upend all the progress that has been made thus far. For the Water Protectors, and indeed for all those who are concerned for the validity of human rights protections in this country and the potential damage to the environment and climate, the pressure is on once again.
* If you are interested in assisting the Water Protectors, they have expressed a need for donations and supplies or help from anyone with legal or media skills. There is also a list of telephone numbers to companies building the pipeline and a link to their GoFundMe page.