Thousands of Native Americans are protesting in North Dakota demanding that the federal government stop the construction of the nearly 1,200 mile (1,931 km) Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) obtained federal permits in July for the $3.8 billion pipeline, which would carry a half-million barrels of crude oil a day from oil fields in North Dakota to an existing pipeline in Illinois.
Change in the pipeline route
Originally, the pipeline was to cross the Missouri River near the city of Bismarck, North Dakota. However, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers expressed concerns that it could potentially threaten the water supply of the city. Consequently, they changed the route to cross over federal lands near Lake Oahe, which is close to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
In April, the Standing Rock Sioux and allied tribes set up a protest camp along the pipeline route in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The protestors expressed concern that the pipeline would not only violate land that is sacred to the tribe, but also is a threat to the reservation’s water resources.
Watch a video of Native American tribes joining the Standing Rock Sioux, by NBC:
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe also sued federal regulators for approving the oil pipeline, challenging the premise that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adequately consulted tribal leaders before granting permits, and arguing that the pipeline would potentially impact drinking water for tribal members. According to the tribe’s complaint in the lawsuit:
“The tribe relies on the waters of Lake Oahe for drinking water, irrigation, fishing, and recreation, and to carry out cultural and religious practices. The public water supply for the tribe, which provides drinking water for thousands of people, is located a few miles downstream of the proposed pipeline crossing route.”
Judge’s ruling spurs federal intervention
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. decided that there was not enough evidence to support the argument that the pipeline would harm the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and denied their request to temporarily block its construction.
The ruling of the Federal judge sparked heated protests at the Cannon Ball camp. Conflict over the pipeline escalated after a private security firm hired by ETP used dogs and pepper spray against protestors.
Watch a video of the Native American protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota by Aljazeera:
However, the Departments of Justice, the Interior, and the U.S. Army weighed in immediately after the Federal judge’s ruling with an announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will temporarily halt construction of the pipeline at Lake Oahe while it reviews its decisions. The announcement also:
“highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
The halt is temporary and only covers the part of the pipeline under construction on the 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahe. Still, the victory hasn’t slowed the number of Native Americans streaming into the protest camp, which is reported to be the largest gathering of Native American tribes in over a century.