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A Battle Lost, But a War That Must Continue
~ Chase Voirin
On February 8th, 2017, Energy Transfers was granted an
easement by the Army Corps of Engineers to resume work
towards the completion of the final stage of placing the
Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, along the Missouri
River adjacent to Cannonball, ND, home of the Standing
Rock Indian Reservation. This project nears completion
understandably due to the dismay of many Indigenous
Nations and non-Indigenous activists fighting to protect tribal sovereignty and environmental justice. Sifting through the articles and seeing the pictures of the last brave holdouts of Water Protectors at the protest camp gave me a sad, hopeless feeling. After nearly a year of occupation and protests, and with the slight hope that the project would cease and desist after the Army Corps of Engineers ruled on December 4th, 2016, that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was required before construction of the pipeline could continue, it’s hard not to let just a sliver of doubt enter one’s personal mindset questioning if this effort was all for not. After venturing up and staying at the protest camp, and meeting the beautiful people there to show their support in stopping the pipeline, I realize now my personal contribution and investment in the fight seemed trivial compared to the activists who had been there for months, and at the time of my visit were preparing for the harsh conditions that winter typically brings to that part of the country. It was a woeful ending to the siege, and indeed a siege it was with a plethora of law enforcement practically surrounding the protest camp with vehicles, drones, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter and able-bodied police, many of who were not even from the state of North Dakota, all gathered in an attempt to maintain control over a perceived threat to extract and transport a resource that is arguably more socially and environmentally damaging than any resource ever sought by mankind in the world.
I’ve heard the expression, “Some battles are worth fighting, and at times must be fought, even if they are doomed to be lost.” On this thought, my hope is that attention has been brought to the fact that Indigenous nations are still fighting for their sovereign rights, even right here in the USA. In this case, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota of Standing Rock were arguing legal claims over land that was granted to them through the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which included land the pipeline was being developed on. As well as legal precedence over sacred sites around Lake Oahe that were being disturbed by the placement of the pipeline. I hope that the nation has awoken, and that those in higher power understand the fear of putting so much of this country’s dependence of livelihood on fossil fuels. In fact, it is simply mind-boggling that that the leaders of this country would place so much hope on a product that is bound to run out probably within the next century.
Oil is not a sustainable resource. The USGS estimates approximately 7.4 billion barrels of oil are under the Three Forks and Bakkan Shale formations that stretch from South Dakota and Montana, through North Dakota to Canada. I’m not a geologist, engineer, nor an oil tycoon, but simple math tells me that if the Dakota Access Pipeline is going to augment the export of approximately one million barrels of oil per day from these geological formations, as their designated mission is to do, that equals roughly just over 20 years of oil extraction and exportation from all states and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba if they started extracting oil at the completion of the pipeline. But oil is already flowing from the Bakkan at a little under 1 million barrels per day, which has increased substantially since the oil boom started in North Dakota. The clock is already ticking as those 7.4 billion barrels are being tapped into each year. And that’s not taking into account the various spills, leaks, and general loss of product that is pretty much bound to happen (see 176,000-gallon spill north of Standing Rock, ND, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/12/pipeline-spills-176000-gallons-of-crude-into-creek-about-150-miles-from-dakota-access-protest-camp.html) with this operation. Meanwhile, the state of North Dakota is pouring billions of dollars into the accommodation of oil production and transport mainly through infrastructure upgrades, all the while praying oil prices rise so they can make up the costs. With the advent of extractive and exporting technology bringing oil out of the ground at an ever-rapid rate, it’s hard to see this as a long-term economic option for North Dakota. But perhaps in the eyes of those leading this charge, short-term profits trump long-term wellbeing.
The main question I keep asking myself is who is going to suffer the most when the oil is gone? Who will be around to deal with the environmental and social destruction left by the oil boom wake? When all the oil is gone I highly doubt those businesses running the show when oil was flowing from the state are going to fork over the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to clean up environmental damages. Not to mention the oil boom has brought with it some of the worst social degradation to rural Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the state of North Dakota, with crime, abuse, and drug-use climbing to an all-time high as money is generated for workers coming from other states with nothing better to spend it on or activities to do during their free time. This in turn will traumatize Indigenous communities already dealing with social trauma from centuries of being taken advantage of. It is these reasons that lead me to believe that the opposition to oil, and it’s unsustainable and harmful effects through extraction, must make a stand whenever and wherever we feel it is needed. It’s time for the nation to take more notice into why we should be seeking alternative energy and transportation solutions that don’t depend on oil, and how supporting tribal sovereignty can in turn support the movement towards environmental justice and sustainable solutions. Which is why I plan on standing with the next similar resistance as Standing Rock, even if it is a battle where failure seems imminent. Long-term wars fought for environmental and social justice are not won or lost through one battle, and must be waged no matter what the outcome may seem.
Dakota Access Pipeline Facts. 2017. Energy Transfer Announces Receipt of Easement from Army Corps of Engineers on Land Adjacent to Lake Oahe. Accessed on 7 March 2017. Available at https://daplpipelinefacts.com/.
DiChristopher, T. 2016. Pipeline spills 176,000 gallons of crude into creek about 150 miles from Dakota Access protest camp. CNBC Energy. Accessed on 7 March 2017. Available at http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/12/pipeline-spills-176000-gallons-of-crude-into-creek-about-150-miles-from-dakota-access-protest-camp.html.
Hersher. R. 2017. Key Moments in the Dakota Access Pipeline Fight. The Two-Way. National Public Radio. Accessed on 7 March 2017. Available athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/22/514988040/key-moments-in-the-dakota-access-pipeline-fight.
Giovanni, B. 2017. Dakota Access Pipeline Expected to Pump $100 Million Into North Dakota Economy. The Street. Accessed on 7 March 2017. Available athttps://www.thestreet.com/story/14024920/1/dakota-access-pipeline-expected-to-pump-100-million-into-north-dakota.html.
Monet, J. 2016. At Standing Rock, activists dig in on historic treaty land. High Country News. Accessed on 8 March 2017. Available athttp://www.hcn.org/articles/thanksgiving-at-standing-rock-activists-dig-in.
Nowatzki, M. 2015 ND governor signs $1.1 billion ‘surge’ spending bill to address oil impacts, roads. In Forum. Accessed on 8 March 2017. Available athttp://www.inforum.com/news/3686334-nd-governor-signs-11-billion-surge-spending-bill-address-oil-impacts-roads.
US Geological Survey (USGS). 2013. USGS Releases New Oil and Gas Assessment for Bakken and Three Forks Formations. USGS Science Features. Accessed on 7 March 2017. Available at https://www2.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/usgs-releases-new-oil-and-gas-assessment-for-bakken-and-three-forks-formations/.
Valentine, K. 2015. Crime in North Dakota’s Oil Boom Towns Is So Bad That The FBI Is Stepping In. Think Progress. Accessed on 8 March 2017. Available athttps://thinkprogress.org/crime-in-north-dakotas-oil-boom-towns-is-so-bad-that-the-fbi-is-stepping-in-76e3203eab24#.h6lz3azd2.
Williams-Derry, C. 2017. Would The Dakota Access Pipeline Help Canadian Oil Producers? Sightline Institute. Accessed on 8 March 2017. Available athttp://www.sightline.org/2017/01/27/would-the-dakota-access-pipeline-help-canadian-oil-producers/.
Photo Credit: Chase Voirin