As thousands of veterans descended on Cannon Ball, North Dakota this past weekend in an effort organized by veterans Wes Clark, Jr. (son of retired four-star general Wesley Clark) and Michael Wood, Jr., to protect the Water Protectors from the ongoing excessive and unprovoked violence, degradation, and human rights abuses committed by militarized state police and private security contractors, the increasingly irrelevant mainstream media finally sent news trucks and journalists to cover an event that they had either grossly distorted or completely ignored for the past 8 months. This is further tribute to the urgent need for independent media and the important role they played in documenting the raw truth of actual events that occurred at Standing Rock, usually in direct contradiction to Morton County law enforcement’s mendacious press releases – a powerful, beautiful, and brutal truth that eventually captured worldwide attention and heartfelt support, challenging the most powerful government in the world to give a proper, careful response in consideration of the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment.
On Sunday, December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not approve a final easement to allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Lake Oahe section on the Missouri River; instead they would explore alternative routes through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. Her office had announced on November 14 that it was delaying the decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing. Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights, along with desecrating sacred sites and ancestral burial grounds.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels. The current proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, an Army Corps of Engineers project on the Missouri River.
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Sunoco Logistics Partners (SXL), who recently merged together under their parent company, Energy Transfer Equity, issued a press statement late Sunday in response to the Army Corps decision, slamming the Obama administration for what they determined to be a “purely political action”:
“In spite of consistently stating at every turn that the permit for the crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe granted in July 2016, comported with all legal requirements, including the use of an environmental assessment, rather than an environmental impact statement, the Army Corps now seeks to engage in additional review and analysis of alternative locations for the pipeline.
“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way. “
The Trump administration could easily approve the project early next year. The Obama Administration has never guaranteed the water protectors or the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that they would use force to stop Dakota Access from drilling under the river without a permit, if necessary. The Army Corps has not yet agreed to pursue a full Environmental Impact Statement for the entire length of the pipeline, only the river crossing to explore “alternate routes.” Rerouting the construction to 10 miles away does not make any difference if they intend to drill under the river. Water travels, and any spill or contamination 10 miles away is going to float downstream right back to them.
To the more cynical observer, the Obama administration’s decision seeks to not only avoid a public relations disaster with such powerful and provocative images as 4,000 veterans pitted against North Dakota’s militarized state police, but by allowing the water protectors to think they have “won”, they are able to get them to decamp and go home, essentially squashing the movement at the height of its popularity and public support.
It is understandable to want this to be a real victory for the water protectors – they have been fighting for so long, sacrificed so much, and put their bodies in harm’s way. At least 2 have suffered from severe, permanent injury as a result of police violence: Sophia Wilansky, a 21-year-old from New York, nearly lost her arm, and Vanessa Dunden, an Apache warrior who has been working security for the camp since September, has lost the vision in one eye. Hundreds of others have been hospitalized as a result of the violent aggression of state police and private security contractors against the peaceful demonstrators.
More than 300 demonstrators and reporters, whose work is supposed to be protected by the 1st Amendment, have been arrested, detained in dog kennels, and subject to humiliating strip searches, for “trespassing” on what is rightfully Sioux territory, according to the treaties signed at Fort Laramie in the 1800’s. The U.S. government even admits that it is their land, and offered the tribe $1.5 billion in compensation. While this is money the tribe desperately needs, they remained true to their principles and rejected it, seeking only to have their land returned to them, and to live in peace and harmony, free from further violence and harassment.
In spite of all the documented human rights abuses against peaceful demonstrators, there has been no indication that any of the officials or police officers who are responsible will be held accountable or face any kind of punitive or disciplinary actions.
Organizers continue to call for every day of December to be “a day of #NoDAPL action” against the investors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over 100 solidarity actions worldwide have already been registered for the coming weeks as the encampment continues to stand their ground.
HERE ARE THE 10 QUESTIONS WE NEED TO BE ASKING IN THE DAYS AND WEEKS AHEAD:
1. Will the Army Corps actually conduct an Environmental Impact Statement? If so, on what portion of the project – just the river crossing, or the whole pipeline?
2. What issues will the EIS take into account? (for example, will it include an analysis of spill risk? how about sacred sites? will it reassess the economic need for the pipeline now that the bakken is busting?)
3. Which alternative routes will be considered? Will a “no-build” option also be considered?
4. How long will the EIS take?
5. What input will the tribe have? What will the public participation process look like?
6. In what way(s) was the original Environmental Assessment prepared by the Army Corps deemed inadequate?
7. What was the result of the tribal consultation process exploring possible changes to the regulatory process for pipelines in general? have any changes been proposed?
8. How easily will these decisions be reversed by a Trump administration?
9. How will these decisions be affected by the outcomes of DAPL’s lawsuit against the Army Corps, scheduled to be heard on Friday?
10. Is the US government prepared to use force to stop the company from drilling under the river without a permit, if necessary?