Native rights and environmental groups are sending out congratulatory emails today on the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are celebrating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to deny an easement to Energy Transfer Partners to drill the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River. The Corps said it would explore alternative routes.
The question now is, What’s next?
The companies which own the Dakota Access Pipeline have sent out a blistering media release vowing to push head with the current project.
Standing Rock Tribal Chair Dave Archambault is telling the Water Protectors to break camp and go home for the winter, according to reports. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also set today as the deadline for people at the Oceti Sakowin Camp — which is on federal property — to leave
Yet many people at the camp don’t trust that the project will stop and are going to stay anyway.
Further, key pipeline players will change soon, both the Governor of North Dakota and the president of the United States. That throws everything up in the air.
Energy Transfer Partners to Oppose Rerouting
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners issued a statement Sunday saying they remain “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,” according to a report in Business Wire.
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.
That “narrow and extreme political constituency” includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and other denominations that have issued statements in support of the Standing Rock Nation and its efforts to stop the pipeline. Once again, here are links to their statements:
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Minnesota Annual Conference, United Methodist Church
- Mennonite Central Committee
- Unitarian Universalist Association
- Presbyterian Church USA
- The Episcopal Church
- The United Church of Christ
Policing the Pipeline
One of the big short-term problems the Water Protectors face is that they have no way to verify whether Energy Transfer Partners has in fact stopped its digging. While a heavily militarized police force is keeping the Water Protectors at a distance from the project, it is not clear that anyone is policing Energy Transfer Partners from digging without an easement. Its public statements give every indication it intends to continue with the current plan.
It would send a bad message to the community if law enforcement is turning a blind eye to one kind of law breaking by corporate America (drilling without an easement) while excessively punishing another form of law breaking (trespass) against Native Americans.
What happens if Energy Transfer Partners digs without an easement? Who holds them accountable? The fear of those opposed to the pipeline is that the penalty is at most a fine, which is no deterrent for a large company. (I have not yet found a definitive answer on the penalty question, but will keep looking.)
Some believe everything will work out. Friends of the Earth sent an enthusiastic email today that started out:
Big news! The Obama administration just announced that it will not be granting the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. This means Energy Transfer Partners — the company building the pipeline — will have to halt construction on the Standing Rock Sioux’s Treaty lands.
But not everyone is so trusting. For contrast, check out the blog Today Is Not A Victory For Water Protectors by We Are The Media:
Do not fall for the headlines or propaganda. I am not leaving Sacred Stone Camp and I urge all Water Protectors to listen to your heart and your prayers to stay until the Black Snake is Dead. You trust my reporting because I give you the hard truth so I will give you that now.
I have no faith DAPL will not Drill under the Missouri River because of these words! The fine is small and they don’t respect the law or human rights. I showed you in numerous photos and videos earlier this year of DAPL’s continuing work during the injunction. People celebrated headlines then as well. It didn’t stop them.
Major Political Changes
Leadership changes are on the horizon. On December 15, Doug Burgum will become North Dakota’s new governor. Burgum, a Republican, will replace Jack Dalrymple, also a Republican. Bergum has generally declined to answer specifics about the pipeline. Even post election, he deferred to Dalrymple on the pipeline protests.
Burgum spoke to the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting in September. According to a report by KFYR TV: “While Burgum did not specifically address the recent protests, he did discuss his general thoughts on the importance of pipelines. ‘Pipelines are the most effective way, in terms of the safest way, and the most environmentally sound way to move products, and that’s why, as a nation, we’re crisscrossed with pipelines across the entire country,’ he said.”
Next, Donald Trump gets inaugurated Jan. 20. Everyone expects he will green light the pipeline, even Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. (Heitkamp is being considered for a cabinet position in Interior or Energy.) According to an article in the Washington Times, she said Monday the fight to stop the pipeline was “not winnable.”
Do Water Protectors Stay or Go?
Each of the Water Protectors now has a difficult choice to make about whether or not to stay. While it does not appear that law enforcement will actively enforce the federal orders to leave the camp, it is not a sure thing. The camp is receiving a lot of attention now because of a large turnout by faith leaders and Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. What happens when they leave? Will law enforcement feel freer to move in with arrests? Will independent observers, medics, and media also be less inclined to stay because of the threat of arrest?
They all face difficult choices.