For months, people from across the country have been converging in North Dakota to protest a massive oil pipeline project under construction. And now, even with winter nearly upon us, leaders are promising that the movement isn't going to end anytime soon.
NPR reported on Friday that tribal leaders had announced their intentions to continue protesting, despite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' announcement that all federal lands would be closed to the public as of December 5. A letter from the Corps' District Commander John W. Henderson said that the decision was made to "protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions." You've probably seen some of the headlines from the protest — including reports of large-scale arrests and injuries during clashes with law enforcement — as activists have attempted to physically block the path of the project. There have been reports of fire hoses turned on protesters in freezing cold weather; and a protester was seriously injured in an explosion a few days before Thanksgiving. But what is actually happening at Standing Rock, and why are tensions continuing to soar? Ahead, a breakdown of the key players and the conflict in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
What Is The Dakota Access Pipeline?The Dakota Access Pipeline is a four-state long, $3.8 billion oil pipeline that will cross the Missouri River. If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will run almost 1,172 miles and deliver 570,000 barrels of crude oil each day from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota to facilities in Illinois. It would run through private land, except when it crosses bodies of waters.
Who Wants To Build It?Dakota Access, the pipeline project's developer, is a subsidiary of the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, LLC. It says the pipeline would help the United States become less dependent on importing energy. It also estimates the pipeline would bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments.
Who's Protesting?The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has contested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribe filed a complaint in federal court alleging that the pipeline could disturb sacred American Indian sites and affect the reservation's drinking water. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe and a successor to the Great Sioux Nation. Since asking the courts for an injunction, other Native American tribes have joined in the efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In addition to the Native American tribes, 30 environmental groups — like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club — have signed a letter sent to President Obama asking him to reject the project. For the record, Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline project in November 2015. Rallies to "protect, not protest" have been held in both North Dakota and in Washington, D.C. Celebrities, like Shailene Woodley and Rosario Dawson, have joined rallies in protest — Woodley was even arrested while protesting. Others, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, have publicly praised the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for its efforts. The demonstrations have at times turned violent, with protesters supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe facing off against private security officers from Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. At the time of one high-profile incident in September, tribal leaders said the protests escalated after construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land, according to the Associated Press. Video from Democracy Now! showed security officers threatening demonstrators with dogs and using pepper spray. Reported altercations between protesters and law enforcement have continued to escalate. In late November, dozens of people were hospitalized and hundreds injured after police used fire hoses, rubber bullets, and several other forms of force to curb the demonstration.
What Are Politicians Saying?
In an interview with NowThis News, President Obama said that the government is looking for ways to reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline. “My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans, and I think right now the Army corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama said. “So we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans.” President-Elect Donald Trump has not publicly commented on the project.
What Happens Next?It's yet to be seen. The tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers on July 27 to stop the pipeline, alleging that the tribe was not consulted and highlighting the danger posed to cultural sites and drinking water. An emergency motion to temporarily block access was denied by Judge James E. Boasberg from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in September. While construction has started, opponents of the pipeline are continuing to try to shut down the project through the courts and other environmental and federal approval processes. “This is not the end of this fight,” Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said. And in mid-November, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has called for “additional discussion and analysis” of the Dakota Access Pipeline and temporarily halted construction, according to a statement. The statement invited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to participate in discussions on conditions for the pipeline crossing the water supply and reducing risks of a spill. The construction reached Lake Oahe, a reservoir that is part of the Missouri River, on election day, according to The Guardian. “While these discussions are ongoing, construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement,” the statement read. “The Army will work with the Tribe on a timeline that allows for robust discussion and analysis to be completed expeditiously.”
What Can I Do?
As the camps prepare for the winter, protesters are asking for help and supplies. On Amazon, a wish list for the Sacred Stone Camp lists items like propane tanks, wool socks, and gas masks. The Medic and Healer Council is also asking for care supplies like vitamin tablets, thermal blankets, and alcohol-free cough syrup. Supporters can also donate money directly to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on their website. Other than financial contributions, the tribe is asking for signatures on a petition against the pipeline that will be sent to President Obama, calling on him to permanently reject the pipeline. As of Monday morning, the petition has 370,736 signatures out of a goal of 1 million.
Ed. note: This story has been updated with additional news and developments.