Why You Should Care About The Dakota Access Pipeline

by Joelle Wisler
ROBYN BECK / Getty Images

You may have started to hear about the Dakota Access Pipeline. You may have seen pictures of Native American protestors on horseback being tear-gassed or arrested by riot gear-clad police officers. You may have noticed that celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley are tweeting out their support for the protestors. You may have an inkling that this all has to do with oil. But what does it all really mean and why should you care?

Here is a quick rundown:

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a proposed 1,172 mile long, 3.8 billion dollar project being led by the Texas-based company, Energy Transfer Partners. They want to run the pipeline from the underground oil-rich Bakken Formation starting at the Canadian border through four states to get the oil to the refineries in Illinois. The Bakken Formation is believed to hold 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in its U.S. portion according to the USGS.

The pipeline will tap into this vast underground deposit and potentially provide a game-changing supply of crude oil to the United States. Sounds good, right? Well, not for everyone.

It turns out that in order to get the oil to the refineries in Illinois they have to cross the Missouri River in North Dakota, which could potentially harm the water that supply the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Missouri River is the tribe’s main source of drinking and irrigation water. In addition, the construction of the pipeline would forever destroy burial grounds and sacred sites.

On Standing Rock Lakota Nation’s website, Sacred Stone Camp, they say, “The Dakota Access threatens everything from farming and drinking water to entire ecosystems, wildlife and food sources surrounding the Missouri. The nesting of bald eagles and piping plovers as well as the quality of wild rice and medicinal plants like sweet grass are just a few of the species at stake here.”

Here is why you should care:

1. This is a classic David and Goliath scenario.

Energy Transfer Partners are Goliath who are coming in with their bulldozers and wanting to drive through whatever obstacle is in their way. They have deep pockets and a lot of convenient friendships at the federal, state, and local levels. As we all know, the U.S. government has a long, terrible track record of just taking whatever they want from Native American communities, and this is no exception. Native Americans have…well, they have determination and numbers and most likely Mother Earth on their side.

2. This land is very important to Native Americans.

This is sacred land to them. Over 1,200 archeologists, museum directors, and historians have even denounced Energy Transfer’s destruction of “ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people.” Imagine a company coming in and wanting to rip apart Arlington Cemetery because they found gold beneath it. Brings to mind images of movies like Avatar.

3. The pipeline was originally supposed to travel across the Missouri River north of Bismarck.

The city of Bismarck became concerned with what might happen to their drinking water (!) in the event of a rupture. The plans were then redrawn south and west, now edging the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. If it’s not okay for the city of Bismarck, it really shouldn’t be okay for Standing Rock.

4. Native Americans are trying to peacefully protest.

Most of them are out there simply praying and chanting. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been joined by other tribes to form the largest gathering of Native Americans in 100 years. They call themselves the “water protectors.” But tensions are rising as the conflict becomes more heated with police.

5. The police are cracking down.

This past week, militarized police in Humvees and riot gear have shown up and hundreds of protesters have been violently arrested, pepper-sprayed, and tear-gassed. Police are also using rubber bullets and LRAD’s, a loud piercing noise that can damage people’s ears permanently. Most arrests being made are for trespassing and civil disobedience. Fires are being set and blockades are being constructed, and shit is starting to go down.

6. This has less to do with oil and more to do with treaties.

It is concerned with whether or not the government is going to actually uphold the promises they made to Native Americans. We have a long and convoluted past, but if you want to read more, this is a great article on our history.

7. There have been some dirty plays by Energy Transfer.

Permits have not been done properly. Ancient sites were bulldozed illegally already. They recently bought the ranch land that Native Americans were camped on. How convenient. Now they can arrest all of the protestors for trespassing.

8. The Obama administration has asked for a voluntary pause in construction.

The pause will last until an environmental review process by the Army Corps of Engineers has been completed, but that isn’t happening.

9. Native Americans aren’t the only ones protesting.

All along the proposed pipeline, landowners, ranchers, and farmers are also protesting since their properties are being taken from them against their will by eminent domain.

10. This is how you can help.

Send donations. Read everything you can. Call the North Dakota governor. Sign petitions. Call the White House. Call the pipeline executives. We can make a difference if we all do something. Water is important. Our historical promises are important.

Go here for a complete list of places to donate and people to call.

Mother Earth will thank you.