The Dakota Pipeline Problem

Cheyenne, WY, 12/4/16 – Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s already into the first week of December. Christmas will be here before we know it. But, in Cannonball, North Dakota, on the northern edge of the Indian reservation, the Standing Rock Sioux and a couple of other American Indian tribes are not ‘hanging their stocking by the chimney with care’ or ‘dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh.” They are, after many weeks, still protesting against the 1,200 mile, four-state pipeline designed to carry oil from the Bakkan formation, a drilling area in western North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois, probably at a port along Lake Michigan.

The Indians, members of the Standing Rock nation, the Cheyenne River Lakota, and the Rosebud Sioux, claim it threatens their drinking water supply on a nearby reservation, and certain cultural sites. The Pipeline developer, a company, called Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), claims that no sites have been disturbed and the pipeline will be safe. Both could be true; one could be true and the other not true; or neither could be true.

“The Missouri River is the primary source of our drinking water,” Doug Crow Ghost, a spokesman for the Standing Rock Sioux and the director of the tribe’s water office, said. He also stated that “Tribal members fish in the river.”

The issue has been waiting for a decision from a colonel at the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees such matters, as to whether or not it will grant the company a permit to complete the short stretch of pipeline under the reservoir. This past weekend, the Corps announced that it will not grant said permit. What happens next? Probably an Environmental Impact study, which the Indians say has never been done.

Their protests have been ineffective. The pipeline is largely completed except for a short section that will pass under a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota; hence, the drinking water issue. I’d hoped that the two parties would meet and work out a different solution before winter actually set in, but the weather has now turned frigid and the protestors, taking a page from their ancestors, have erected tepees at the site where they are temporarily living.

The local authorities, having had enough, have asked the Indians to pack up and leave now. Tribal elders have also asked them to disband. Meanwhile, ETP’s Executive Director, Kelcy Warren has stated that after a further study, it will not re-route the pipeline using a route west and south; too costly. But, he is open to meeting with the elders to attempt another solution.

Things turned nasty two weeks ago. Local authorities doused protestors with water as they tried to push past a roadblock at a local bridge, closed as unsafe because it had been partially burned by the protestors a few weeks before. Protestor organizers, according to an AP article, said that “at least 17 protestors were taken to a hospital, including some treated for hypothermia.” This, of course may or may not be true – consider the two sources – but the weather is cold enough to cause some damage to the health of anyone doused with cold water. And, the protestors were attempting to reach a pipeline construction site on the other side of the bridge. What they were going to do if they got there is an open question.

The latest word is that the Governor of North Dakota has said he is willing to meet with company officials and the protest leaders, to see if a different solution could be reached which will satisfy both parties to this dispute.

Stay tuned.