By Allie LaRue
Photo courtesy of Unsplash
Across the majority of the United States, as well as Canada, there are pipelines that carry products, such as natural gas and oil, essential to energy access. Two of the most notable pipelines from the past few years are the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Both of these pipelines, carrying oil across several state lines, were heavily protested due to their environmental impacts and equity issues. I would like to focus on the Dakota Access Pipeline, its impacts on indigenous communities, and how the pipeline can be a learning experience for the government and oil companies.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) runs along the border of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal nation and posed an active threat to their water resources and previous treaty negotiations. While the pipeline was located underground and not directly on their land, if the pipeline leaked or burst, it would destroy the entirety of their freshwater supply. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to, “cross the Missouri River near Bismarck, but it was moved over concerns that an oil spill at that location would have wrecked the state capital's drinking water,” (Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline | Teacher Resource, 2018). The government then agreed unanimously to move the location of the pipeline to just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and began construction. Not only is this a testament to the disparities that indigenous communities continue to face, but it is environmentally irresponsible.
There were countless protests from the Sioux and supporters of the indigenous community, which led to a massive amount of military and police retaliation. After several months of protests and calls for proper environmental review, the pipeline was ordered to be shut down on March 25th, 2020, with the Supreme Court stating that, “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and glossed over the devastating consequences of a potential oil spill when it affirmed its 2016 decision to permit the pipeline,” (Earthjustice, 2022). While it is not currently ruled as a permanent shutdown of the pipeline, a further environmental review will take years to complete. In addition, it is likely the environmental review will come back discouraging the continuation of use and construction of this pipeline, making this a somewhat win for the Standing Rock Sioux.
It is still important to consider the implications the Sioux still face from the pipeline such as destroyed sacred sites, increased depression and suicide rates, and oppression from military and police members in the area. The mental health effects of losing sacred land, family members due to police violence, and living in a state of distress for years are disastrous and should be continued to be acknowledged.
While the Standing Rock Sioux are no longer in danger of an oil spill contaminating their water supply, DAPL’s situation can be a learning opportunity for members of government, climate activists, and community members. With the rapid growth of oil and natural gas demand in the United States due to urbanization, it is important to hold these companies accountable for their actions. The lives lost due to DAPL could have been avoided and I believe that when situations like this arise, it is possible to spread awareness for these communities. To be an environmental justice leader and climate activist, it takes community and support for all walks of life. Calling upon representatives of the oil companies and governmental leaders will help us do our part in creating safe, sustainable, and equitable energy development.
Earthjustice. (2022, October 3). Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down. https://earthjustice.org/press/2020/judge-orders-dakota-access-pipeline-to-shut-down
Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline | Teacher Resource. (n.d.). https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/plains-treaties/dapl