by Justin Robbins
By now, you may have still not heard of the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which hopes to transfer oil produced in the Bakken oil fields to Illinois and beyond. Without speculating on motive, I’ll just say it hasn’t gotten a lot of national media attention.
There’s a good summary of the situation here; however, the issue is not terribly complicated. A Texas-based company, Energy Transfer Partnerships, through their subsidiary Dakota Access, LLC, has obtained permission to build a 1,168 mile pipeline from northwest North Dakota, to southern Illinois. It is a $3.6 billion project expected to pump 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day. The pipeline is slated to cross under the Missouri river just north (upstream) of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation; home to about 8,200 Lakota, Yanktonai and Dakota Indians. The Missouri River serves as the primary water source for the reservation.
The selling points of the pipeline are nothing new. It is argued the pipeline will create jobs; it will keep domestic gas prices low; and that pipelines are safer than rail or truck transport of oil. Consequently, any perceived threat to the environment in general, or the water supply on the reservation specifically, are acceptable collateral risks…if you’re an oil company.
We are not. Despite being fully enmeshed in a petroleum based economy, I would argue the collateral risks associated with continuing, unchecked, on this path is not only unsustainable for our country, but for our planet.
What’s really happening at the Standing Rock protest is an effort by Native Americans not just to protect the water supply of one reservation, but to sound a clarion call to stop setting up the dominos of environmental catastrophe. I know…another holier-than-thou, tree-hugging essay, hypocritically typed out on a petroleum based keyboard telling you to be the change you want to see.
So, don’t take my word for it. Take Exxon’s. In 1978, Exxon’s own researchers told its executives, “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” 1978. That was 33 years before the 2011 Silvertip Pipeline rupture sent 63,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. It was 37 years before their Bridger Pipeline rupture sent another 50,000 gallons into the Yellowstone during the warmest year yet on record; 2015.
There are difficult choices to be made. Those, like Dakota Access, who would hire private thugs with attack dogs to protect their taxpayer subsidized speculation and profiteering have loudly declared themselves ill-suited to consider the needs of the many. America’s First People, standing once more against the myopic tyranny of a group insisting that its destiny is manifest, deserve our support. They are illustrating not just what can or should be done, but what must be done. Within their mythology, and their words and actions can be found the courage to challenge our cult of convenience; and to protect our pale blue dot for the Standing Rock tribes, and for everyone else.