The Protests Over The Dakota Access Pipeline Explained

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Anti-fracking activists are using the public’s misunderstandings of the Dakota Access Pipeline to paint the multi-state project as a blight against American Indians and the environment. But some details about the hotly contested project might dispel some of those misconceptions.

Protesters and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have relentlessly blasted the $3.8 billion pipeline, arguing the DAPL’s construction would trample on tribal lands and destroy ancient tribal artifacts. They also argue it could potentially poison waterways, including rivers such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.

Many of the demonstrations against the nearly 1,200-mile long pipeline have turned violent and bloody.

In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers, which had previously approved the pipeline, met with leaders from Standing Rock Sioux on Friday in hopes to avoid more confrontations between police and protesters.

Here are a few pieces of information to keep in mind when considering what to make of the pipeline’s construction.

The Tribe Never Took Part In The Initial Consulting Process

The Army Corps of Engineers attempted more than a dozen times between 2014 and 2016, according to court documents, to discuss the DAPL route with the Standing Rock. The tribe either failed to respond to requests for consultation or dragged its feet during the process.

The Corps sent a letter to the tribe in October of 2014 with information about the proposed pipeline routes as well as maps documenting the known cultural sites the Corps had identified.

“In addition, the letter requested that any party interested in consulting on the matter reply within thirty days,” the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in August. “No response was received from the Tribe.”

The head of the North Dakota Public Service Commission mirrored the judge’s decision earlier this week, telling reporters that the tribe had plenty of time to voice concerns before the pipeline’s construction.

Julie Fedorchak, who serves as the chairman of the commission, told National Public Radio in an interview Wednesday that Standing Rock Sioux did not participate in the nearly 30 hours of meetings held to determine the pipeline’s southern route.

The tribe’s decision to drag its feet on the issue is odd considering it usually does engage with the commission on other issues, Fedorchak added. It’s also strange based on the sheer amount of angst the project has received in recent months.

The DAPL Runs Parallel To An Already Existing Pipeline 

The DAPL runs parallel to an already existing pipeline built back in 1982 called the Northern Border Pipeline, which already runs through the areas currently being disputed by Standing Rock.

The Northern Border line never received any protests or complaints from demonstrators associated with Standing Rock, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline.

The Government Rerouted DAPL Several Times To Avoid Tribal Lands

Cultural surveys conducted prior to the pipeline receiving the approval show 91 of the 149 eligible sites contained stone features considered sacred American Indian tribes.

The pipeline, which is expected to shuttle more than 500,000 barrels of Bakken oil from North Dakota to Illinois, was rerouted and modified to avoid all 91 of those areas, and all but nine of the other potentially eligible sites.

The modifications convinced the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to deny a motion for a preliminary injunction in September by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, citing the inability of the tribe to show how the pipeline would damage the group’s sacred ground.

The Pipeline Does Not Cut Through Standing Rock’s Reservation 

The DAPL route does not cut through Standing Rock’s reservation — in fact, the entire area is privately owned, meaning the route is located several miles North of the tribe’s ancestral land.

The tribe has attempted to meander around that problem by arguing the land is theirs under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

“This demolition is devastating,” Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II told reporters in October. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The treaty was forged between the U.S. government and the Great Sioux Nation, not Standing Rock. Still, tribe members have challenged the treaty and others like it in court for not being honored.

The Pipeline Was Moved Over Environmental Concerns

Energy Transfer Partners moved the project South near the Standing Rock reservation because it was 11 miles shorter and considered less damaging to the environment, according to a report the Army Corps of Engineers. The new pipeline also cost $23 million less than the initial route.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the Bismarck route, eventually concluding it was not a viable option because of the project’s close proximity to the capital’s municipal water supply wells. The department also determined the northern route would have made it difficult to stay 500 or more feet away from homes, a policy required in North Dakota.

The southern route near Standing Rock’s reservation is mostly rural, making it easier for the pipeline to be constructed with as little environmental impact as possible.

Army Corps of Engineers, in fact, would later deem the new pipeline route crossing Lake Ohae safe in an environmental assessment, arguing that the ETP has “developed response and action plans, and will include several monitoring systems, shut-off valves, and other safety features to minimize the risk of spills and reduce…any potential damages.”

Eminent Domain Was Never Used On The North Dakota Route 

Energy Transfer Partners relied on voluntary easements, which are non-possessory rights to use the property of a landowner without owning the land itself, to construct the pipeline’s southern route near Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation. Much of the land that protesters are occupying during their demonstrations is private property owned by farmers.

Still, federal officials are refusing to evict those hunkered down at makeshift campsites along the DAPL route. Officials believe booting the protesters would harm free speech rights, despite the fact that the land is privately owned.

Eminent domain was used in other portions of the route in Iowa, prompting farmers to sue the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) in an effort to prevent the company from gaining the right to use the property-seizing tool. A judge eventually allowed the DAPL use of the land.

Investments in pipelines like DAPL have increased since 2010 by some 60 percent, according to an American Petroleum Institute study, and have nearly doubled from $56.3 billion in 2010 to $89.6 billion in 2013. The increase has likely raised concerns among environmentalists about the use of eminent domain.

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