If approved, the $3.4 billion Dakota Access Pipeline would transfer about a half million barrels of crude oil per day across 1,134 miles starting at the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota, taking a southeast path through South Dakota and Iowa, and eventually reaching Illinois. From Illinois it would connect to another existing pipeline with access to the Gulf of Mexico.
All permits have been filed, all four states have approved the project, and at least 90 percent of landowners along the route have agreed to voluntary easements. The project promises economic development, jobs, tax revenue, and hefty payouts to the landowners along the way.
But to those who oppose the pipeline, the environmental impacts are not worth the money. They are more concerned with the health and well-being of their people and land, and with the health and well-being of future generations. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is trying to stop the pipeline—and might be the only entity with the ability to actually prevent the project from moving forward.
Final approval lies in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for taking environmental and safety concerns into consideration before issuing a federal permit.
The Dakota Access team says on its website that proper steps have been taken to “ensure that the route had taken into consideration every aspect of the land in order to mitigate any risks.” But dozens of environmental organizations, individual landowners, concerned residents and one tribal government strongly disagree. The potential for an oil spill is always a risk with a pipeline project, they say, and if that were to happen, the environmental consequences would be devastating.
While the pipeline would not technically run directly through the Standing Rock Reservation, it would cross the Missouri River only a few hundred feet upstream from Standing Rock’s border, less than a mile from the community of Cannon Ball. From that crossing point the river flows south, comprising the entire eastern border of the reservation. If a leak were to occur, it would undoubtedly devastate the environment, people, resources and land of the Standing Rock nation. The quality of the water of the Missouri River is critical to the health and well-being of the tribe, both economically and culturally.
Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II has already met with and garnered support from officials in Washington representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Federal environmental and historic preservation laws require that large civil works projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline consult with any impoverished communities, minority populations and specifically with federally recognized tribes that are in near proximity prior to construction. As such, the tribe is demanding that the Army Corps of Engineers take its members’ interests and livelihood into consideration in a new environmental assessment.
Before the tribal officials voiced their concerns, the Army Corps had been utilizing an environmental assessment conducted by Dakota Access that did not take tribal interests into consideration at all. This lack of tribal consultation is a violation of the trust responsibility between the federal government and the tribe. Out of the 154 meetings held between the Dakota Access company, local elected officials and community organizations in North Dakota since the project was announced last summer, not one of those meetings included Standing Rock.
The reputation of the Army Corps of Engineers is not one that has been historically supportive of tribal interests, but the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is hoping to change and improve that relationship. Standing Rock will continue to work with all necessary federal agencies to resolve the discrepancies that occurred in the initial environmental assessment draft. However, the individual landowners and state governments who have approved the project are apparently seeing nothing but dollar signs.
The Army Corps has stated that it will make a decision about issuing a federal permit to Dakota Access by the first week in May. Until then, the tribe and other entities will continue to fight the pipeline. They are urging any and all interested parties to send letters to all relevant federal agencies and submit statements in support of the cause by any means possible.