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North Dakota Pipeline conflict – ecological activists against a billion dollar project

Protests of environmental activists against a corporation trying to build something is not a new thing. It happens more and more often in the modern world, along with people’s increasing concern about the future of the planet and their descendants.

One of such protests is currently happening in North Dakota, US, where an oil pipeline is being built across the Missouri river. What concerns the activists? What is the view from the government side? And what is the future of this conflict? These are the questions I will try to answer in this article.

What is this all about?

The Dakota Access oil pipeline is being built by the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, having an expected total length of 1170 miles (1883 kilometers).The project was approved and became public in July 2014. The pipeline is going to go through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. It is aimed to connect Bakken oil fields with the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. The main purpose of this pipeline is to substitute rail delivery as it is not considered to be reliable. Also, it can help the US to attain energy independence and create more work places. This 3.7 billion project drew the main attention of the protesters in August 2016, when the number of Native American tribes opposed the building of the pipeline. Demonstrators, named ReZpect our Water, brought a petition to Washington, DC, attracting some international consideration. The main threats of the construction that are being named are: the disturbance of land, oil leaks to the river and cultural threat to the homeland of Native Americans.

Protesters. What dangers do they see and what do they want?

Being very close to the river, the building of the pipeline can bring some serious consequences, which are seen as the main ecological threat in the eyes of activists. The oil spill will lead to dramatic contamination of the river, which is a major water source for people who live in cities downstream. That being said, the pollution of the Missouri river will become a serious ecological problem. The question the activists are asking is: Don’t you drink water too? They aim to stop the construction of the pipeline completely or reroute it so it does not go through the adjacent to the Missouri river territories. Another concern the activists see is the violation of human and native rights. It is stated that the building of the pipeline will damage and even ruin completely the sacred sites, where the ancestors of the Native American tribes living there are buried. That is the reason why among the protesters fighting for the abandonment of the project you can see representatives of several biggest tribes.

Police, government and law – what is their answer to the protesters?

As stated above, the building of the pipeline will create a great number of work places. That is the reason why the labor unions remain divided between two opposite opinions. Some of them do support the protests, whereas some of the largest ones are demanding the president “to stand up for Americans workers”, meaning that the pipeline should be built. If looking at the problem from the legal side, it can be found that the land that the tribes want to protect and name their homeland is owned by the company building the pipeline. Therefore, the tribes do not really have a right to prevent the building according to this reasoning. As well as this, the protesters can be (and already were) arrested for trespassing.

At first, the government was concerned about the cultural value of land and revoked the construction permit in June 2016. However, in August 2016 the pipeline received federal approval, followed by a petition in support of the full review of environmental effects being made by the pipeline, which was signed by more than 30 thousand people.

The next point to be considered is the ecological side of the protests, mainly the possibility of an oil spill. In this case, there is no single clear opinion either. On one hand, the pipeline is a safer option of transportation oil and gas, than the one using trucks and trains. Moreover, pipelines would have safeguards against leaks. On the other hand, the aging of the pipeline and lacking of federal control can increase the chances of an oil or gas spill. Being such an expensive project, the pipeline will not be changed when needed. As the research states, most of the US pipelines are already more than 50 years old and the need for implementing new ones is crucial. Fundings are also becoming an issue for Energy Transfer Partners, as the Norwegian Bank DNB is considering withdrawing its funds from the company, which stands for 10% of the whole funding, due to the concerns about the human rights violations.

What’s next? The pipeline is supposed to be delivered by 1st of January 2017. Is it going to be possible and what are the steps taken in order to solve the conflict? First of all, the construction of the pipeline has not been stopped despite the protests, so the company is eager to finish the work on time. Secondly, the activists and the Native American tribe in response has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council for help in response. One of the solutions of solving the problem is rerouting the pipeline, which was supported by Barak Obama, who said that the ways of rerouting the pipeline could be found and the process should begin. However, the US Department of Justice did not comment on this suggestion and said that they still need to wait for the permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers, who are reviewing the possibility of rerouting at the time being and has not given the permission for building near the Missouri river to the company. A suggestion of rerouting was also supported by Virginia senator Tim Kaine. Senator of Vermont Bernie Sanders, on the opposite, is supporting complete termination of the project.

Although I do think that the protesters have a point, especially in terms of ecological threats, the possibility of rerouting does not seem to be a solution that is going to be implemented. First of all, because it will take much more time and financing for the company to do this. And, as long as they have all necessary permissions, they won’t be willing to postpone the delivery date and spend more money on this project. Secondly, other “easier” solutions can be found. For example having the pipes reviewed more carefully and having the contract for the pipes being renewed at the certain point of usage. Anyway, the protesters themselves cannot prevent the building of the pipeline. They need serious support from the government, law or any other higher standing establishments in order to have a legal reason for stopping this project. A lot of news are appearing every day saying who supports which side, who is fighting and all the new facts concerning this topic. However, the decision has not been found yet and the company is continuing to build the pipeline with or without the permission. I hope that the concerns of the protesters will be taken into consideration and the solution that satisfies everyone will be found.


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