Dakota Access Pipeline: A Brief History

The recent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline construction has made a ton of headlines. The Dakota Access Pipeline runs a total of 1,172 miles from Bakken Shale in North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will connect Bakken and the Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. Construction of the pipeline is almost complete except for a small section passing under the Missouri River.

As per the Obama administration’s decision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it is refusing to grant the final permit required to complete the $3.8 billion project, offering relief to Native American protestors.  According to a memo from Energy Transfer Partners CEO, Kelcy Warren, construction of the pipeline is already about 60% complete.

Construction of the pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major markets in a direct, cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner. The pipeline is also predicted to reduce the current use of rail and truck transportation to move Bakken crude oil to major U.S. markets (Midwest, East Coast, Gulf Coast and Texas markets) to support demand. The pipeline will transport half of Bakken’s current daily crude oil production and address transportation issues in the Upper Midwest.

The increase in crude oil production in North Dakota has strained transportation to Upper Midwest markets. These strains include: a lack of rail cars to move grain out of South Dakota, an increase on tariffs on railcars from $50 to $1,400 per car and transportation shortages for agriculture and other industries.

The estimated economic impact of the Dakota Access Pipeline is said to create jobs and revenue in sales, income taxes and property taxes. Approximately 8,000-12,000 local jobs are predicted to be created during construction. The pipeline investment translates into millions in state and local revenue as well as an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes. $55 million annually is predicted to be generated in property taxes for services to support schools, roads and emergency services. However, the construction was stopped by three federal departments (The Justice Department, Department of Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) after two years of constant criticism of the potential harmful effects of the pipeline and recent protests by Native Americans.

Those who oppose the construction of the pipeline have many reasons for doing so. Critics say the pipeline could pollute drinking water from the Missouri River and destroy land that’s culturally important to Native Americans. In addition, the land was acquired from family farmers in Iowa via eminent domain, a method not preferred by critics that is defined as a right of a government to take private property for public use.

Controversy surrounding the pipeline started two years ago when Energy Transfer Partners announced that 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day would be carried from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to existing infrastructure in Illinois. This past summer, thousands protested against the pipeline and dozes were arrested near the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation in Iowa. The Obama Administration has, for now, halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, temporarily providing relief to protestors from more than 200 Indigenous nations and their non-Native Allies.

Priyanka R. Oza is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Lori Windle

What else you should know: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to installing an oil pipeline beneath the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, their only source of water, has been in the news lately. They are concerned that nearly inevitable pipeline leaks will contaminate the water, not only for their tribal members, but all of those who live downstream near the Missouri River; and that the construction has and will continue to destroy sacred areas, burials and cultural resources important to the native people. The tribe has stated that it believes it was not adequately consulted in advance by the Army Corps of Engineers, who need to issue a permit for the company to drill under the waterway. The Council on Historic Preservation, the EPA and the Department of the Interior all urged the Army Corps NOT to approve the first permit affecting the tribe, but the Corps did anyway July 25. The opposition camps nearby began in the spring and attracted thousands of supporters worldwide, including cities and countries. The national media did not cover it much until recently, when some people were injured, and then in 60 second sensational clips.
The issue appears to me to be a critical intersection of environmental law & policy, tribal sovereignty, Federal Indian trust responsibility, business interests, cultural heritage, health, treaty rights, environmental justice, human rights and ultimately climate change.

Initially, the pipeline was planned further north, nearer the city of Bismarck. This was scrapped when concerns about contamination of the water there were raised, and it was then rerouted within a half a mile of the Standing Rock Reservation. The tribe still retains the rights to the land underneath Lake Oahe, since it was formed by damming the river and flooding their homelands, destroying numerous homes and important cultural areas. The permit that the Army Corps declined to approve ( Dec. 4) pending further Environmental Impact Studies was for the company to drill underneath this lake to install the pipeline.

As things have developed and tensions increased, more journalists began to examine it. It is pretty sensitive and complicated, with many aspects and opinions in addition to facts. In an unprecedented move, several hundred tribes have unified in support of Standing Rock, supporting the efforts with supplies and money to continue their opposition. Young people from all over the country have run from their tribal communities, sometimes more than a thousand miles away, to support. Upwards of an estimated seven thousand people were at the camps preparing for the looming North Dakota winter. A group of over 4000 veterans traveled to the site the weekend before the Army Corps announcement to non-violently shield the water protectors. UN Human Rights observers, as well as those from Amnesty International have been in attendance documenting the treatment of the protesters by law enforcement.

Certainly there is much, much more than I can possibly present here, but hopefully this will be a good start.

Here is a brief video of Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault stating his case on national news:

I saved a video from earlier this year (before election) to help explain why native people feel it is important to oppose this project. Tribal rights attorney Tara Houska is interviewed by PBS’ Maria Hinojosa for the Humanizing America series. It is not quite six minutes long.

More Press:
North Dakota Oil Pipeline Battle: Who’s Fighting and Why- A NYT article from August lays out the basics
​An article from High Country News I found informative: Back to civics class: 10 things to know about Standing Rock
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative group founded five decades ago to measure civic literacy in American society, has demonstrated this by giving regular citizens the same exam immigrants take when they apply for American citizenship. Last year, when 2,500 college graduates and elected politicians took that exam, 1,700 of them flunked! The average grade among those who failed was 49 percent. The ones that fared the worst, with a grade average of 44 percent, were elected politicians. It’s high time for a crash course in federalism and representative democracy. Before we allow Standing Rock to erupt into Wounded Knee III, all of us would do well to pause and ponder 10 important lessons that we should have learned in basic civics classes…
New York City Stands with Standing Rock – A syllabus: https://nycstandswithstandingrock.wordpress.com/standingrocksyllabus/
(A deeper dive)
This syllabus project contributes to the already substantial work of the Sacred Stones Camp, Red Warrior Camp, and the Oceti Sakowin Camp to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens traditional and treaty-guaranteed Great Sioux Nation territory. The Pipeline violates the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and 1851 signed by the United States, as well as recent United States environmental regulations. The potentially 1,200-mile pipeline presents the same environmental and human dangers as the Keystone XL pipeline, and would transport hydraulically fractured (fracked) crude oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to connect with existing pipelines in Illinois.
Also from High Country News: The misguided archaeological review behind the Dakota Access Pipeline:
Traditional cultural properties in the U.S. can often be archaeological sites, artifacts that ancestors once touched and places that mark ancestral homes. But just as often they can be a mountain where spirits dwell or a spring where water is gathered for ceremonies. They can be a traditional area for collecting plants or animals that sustain and heal communities. They can be origin places where ancestors emerged onto the earth or named places recalled in ancient tongues. This is why documenting traditional cultural properties requires not the work of archaeologists but Native Americans as well…

This blog and my response are simply scratching the surface of this complex and highly charged issue. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Priyanka R. Oza

Hey Lori! Thank you so much for your comment and all the great information. There is so much to say on this topic, and I really struggled fitting it into this page. You have great foresight, because I plan on writing about this topic for the next two weeks. And yes, I do plan on detailing specifically why tribal protests have been occurring. It’s important to highlight that. Do you mind if I use the sources and information you just provided in your comment? I will be sure to credit you! <3

Lori Windle

hi Priyanka-
you do not need to credit me for the sources I used. The other information is a synthesis of a lot of things learned over time, from many people and sources. As a federal employee and a tribal member, these are general issues that I try to keep up on. I would encourage you to solicit comments and material from other folks like me who are both native and feds.

Priyanka R. Oza

Hey Lori! I clicked the link and the article popped up. Not sure what happened when you did. Let me know if the link is working for you now!

richard regan

I was taught by mainly white teachers in school that government at all levels had your best interests at heart. That government would take care of you and protect your family from threats both domestic and foreign. If your house got broken into, the police would investigate. If your home was burning down, the fire department would be on the way. If your drinking water was in danger, the environmental protection agency would ride to the rescue.

It was a reasonable contract at the time. Taxpayers regardless of who they were, how they talked or what they looked like could expect a return on their investments.

Wow, if it was just that simple. Just ask the mostly dark skin folks of Flint, MI who were exposed to unhealthy levels of lead in their drinking water when local, state and federal government officials that were supposed to have Flint’s back, made regulatory decisions to poison a group of hard working, taxpaying citizens.

The Flint, MI disaster raises the age old issue of environmental racism-the notion that the poor, people of color, the marginalized and citizens on the edges of society are affected by pollution and other environmental degradation more so than white people and residents in more affluent communities.

Now we have another example of environmental racism almost as egregious as the Flint, MI case.
Here comes the Dakota Access Pipeline Project which seeks to construct a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline to transport crude oil from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The route of the pipeline has been altered based on political opposition of white communities in its path. Of course nobody felt inclined to tell the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Tribe that the revised path of the pipe line would be adjacent their reservation and cross the Missouri River, their primary drinking water source.

The company building the pipeline did not reach out to the taxpaying citizens of Standing Rock. Neither did the states surrounding the tribe that gave permits for the construction. Where was the federal government who has a government-to-government responsibility to the Standing Rock Sioux based on a nearly 300 year history of executive orders, public laws, federal regulations, treaties and Presidential proclamations that require feds to have a fiduciary responsibility to look after the best interests of federally recognized tribes?

Where were the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior when it came to advocating for Indian country?

Where were the major banks that are financing this behemoth project with glowing diversity mission statements and inclusion organizational principles on their websites and front doors that conceal the corporate greed in their hearts?

Government will let you down. Just ask the citizens of Flint, MI and Standing Rock Sioux, ND.

Priyanka R. Oza

Hey Richard,

Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. Here’s hoping that the Obama Administration halting the construction of the pipeline assists in reinstating justice to the residents of Standing Rock.