I spent the weekend prior to posting this experiencing the season of Winter descend upon my city. Life slowed to a crawl for many as roads were treated against snow and ice. As temperatures reached their daily highs, they still remained below freezing. Wind chills were counted in the negatives. Innumerable accidents occurred. Through it all I remained hunkered down. I remained safe, warm, and comfortable.
I reflected on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and all I had heard about it. I considered the people on both sides of the conflict. The company running a business, the trade workers welding and the like, and the security maintaining a line. Conversely, there are the indigenous people whose sovereignty is again being overrun. There are the volunteers that built the infrastructure to dig in for a long fight. And there are people from all walks that are now protecting the environment from potential harm.
The cold, as unwelcome as it is here, is downright fatal further north. I have listened intently to what developments have sprouted since the beginning of the December to see what else I could learn. And in doing so, I have seen the news cycle turn away from this issue. The points raised on all sides have validity, so this is still an ongoing event. In the event you are one of my foreign friends and do not know much about this, let me share what I found out.
Dakota Access, LLC is the namesake for this pipeline. Construction, if completed, will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois. The approximate distance of the pipeline would be 1,172 miles (1886 kilometers). There is a daily projected production and transportation of 470,000~570,000 barrels of light sweet crude oil. Among the expressed advantages of this pipeline is the reduction of rail and truck transportation of oil. As there are already established pipelines in the state of Illinois this should hasten how soon such oil can be refined into a more widely usable product. The pipeline itself is being “built and operated using the most advanced technology and monitoring systems to make it even safer.” (source)
It is a very real truth not only to this country, but to me personally, that times are economically tough. This project boasts a prospective 8,000 to 12,000 jobs across a broad spectrum. Manufacturers of the innumerable parts, tradesmen and tradeswomen and heavy equipment operators for the project are counted here. Additionally the infrastructure to support them will add more jobs than that total. This is no small feat and means the world to the people that can step up and over their current means. Additionally, America is still a very oil and gasoline hungry nation. This will help feed that appetite. These are all good things, and I do not want to malign these particular benefits.
In this case it is not simply the fact that success is reached, but how the path to that end is walked.
I have a friend by the name of Monique Salazar. She spent the weekend following the Thanksgiving holiday in North Dakota at the Oceti Sakowin camp. Upon her return she relayed her experiences which you can view here. It was good for me to hear a firsthand perspective from someone I knew personally. She spoke not only of the preparations to her visit, but also of the community that had gathered at the camps. The protection of water and sacred lands was paramount among the goals. And at the zenith, the mindset of continued prayer and peacefulness which lay at the heart of all actions taken. It was after listening to her firsthand accounts that I sat down to write a response to what I had been hearing.
This issue first reached my eyes when fervor kicked up regarding this pipeline as it began making the rounds on social media. It was to pass through the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux. Relationships between the American government and those of the indigenous peoples of this continent have long been strained and deserves its own work. To explain quickly, as European colonies expanded, and formal states as defined and recognized by the Europeans took shape, the indigenous populations were relegated to reservations. Here, the people would be able to rule themselves and carry on their cultures. Sad to say, the sovereignty of these nations has oft been infringed upon. At the very least, the conditions of poverty and a lack of economic engines resembles that of neighborhoods I have grown up in. It makes it feel difficult to relay with gravity conditions to those outside the community.
For instance, an article I read originally slated the pipeline to be constructed a bit north of Bismarck, the capital city of the state of North Dakota. Belief on social media was that, due to the towns’ objections, the pipeline route was redirected to the south. However a check via Snopes states that the Army Corps decided independently upon the present route. This decision was made primarily to avoid eleven extra miles of pipeline being built, as well as to avoid the crossing of more roads and water bodies. This decision was made approximately in May of 2014.
Respecting the Army Corps evaluation turns me back to Dakota Access. They and their parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, met with representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux back in September of 2014. At this point their north-of-Bismarck route had already been struck down by the Army Corps. It was at this meeting that the Sioux originally raised objections to the pipeline being built near their lands. While it officially lay outside the boundaries of their appointed territory, it passes less than a mile near to it. The oil company representatives were asked to familiarize themselves with sites that would be negatively affected by the pipeline especially in the case of failure. If the oil companies did this, it did not stop construction of the pipeline along the boundary of Sioux land.
It is stated in the article that the Sioux did not respond to Army Corps invitations to meetings regarding DAPL during 2015. I ask, how many times must a people say “No” before they are listened to? It is my thought that the oil company should have again changed their route after the meeting with the Sioux stating as such. Instead, we are here on the cusp of 2017 and the pipeline is skirting the edge of Sioux lands amidst their objections. And the protection of their land is met with armed opposition. It is my personal feeling that just because Dakota Access is abiding this portion of the law, it does not mean they are proceeding rightly.
Allow me to digress.
Imagine something, if you will.
You live a short drive away from a family burial plot that has the last three generations of your bloodline resting there. You go one day to visit their graves and see armed guards held in ranks midway in the cemetery. Not only are they clad in full riot gear, but their stances relay a primed tension. Behind them, the building of a strip mall is encroaching ever closer to where your family rests. When you approach the guards to ask what is going on you are told to maintain your distance. Confused, again you ask what is going on. You are answered with direct spray from a fire hose. The ground beneath you is also intentionally soaked to mud so that you will have trouble moving towards the guards again.
In the event you did not watch the video above my friend relayed a similar story. Turtle Island is a burial mound surrounded nearly, if not completely, by what I would call a moat. This is a sacred area to the people of the Oceti Sakowin camp. A video was taken via aerial drone, which Monique shared with us. In it you can see armed guards keeping position on the top of Turtle Island. Elders and members of the tribe crossed to the Island and asked the guards to vacate, expressing the importance of where they all stood. The security officers were literally atop the bones of Sioux ancestors, stretching much further back than three generations. Instead of the guards falling back, water was used to douse the Sioux on the hill and make any potential climb treacherous, if not impossible. This was done to halt any forward advance. At this point, the tribal members had shields against the hoses themselves as they had previously been sprayed during a prior confrontation. However, in at least one of these prior instances, the spray had been cut significantly with pepper spray or another non-lethal deterrent. Between the from-above power of the hoses, creation of hazardous footing, and North Dakota’s near if not freezing nights, this was a less than humane tactic.
The use of fire hoses hearken back to the Civil Rights Movement that people of color endured about half a century ago. During those times, many Black Americans and their allies would perform acts of civil disobedience and perform peaceful protests. At this time the parts of the southeastern United States had legal segregation. Whites and Blacks were, by law, to remain in their designated areas. Restaurants, water fountains, restrooms, and all public areas were either White- or Colored Only. There are many horror stories of how a minor or perceived sleight ended in gruesome death. During the times when cameras and eyes were on these marches, less lethal tactics were employed. Police dogs were used to take marchers down, when arrested people were kept in less than humane conditions, and water hoses were employed to break lines and encourage dispersal.
In America, I get the feeling that many American view pre-Civil Rights Movement attitudes cause the same knee jerk reaction as Germans get about the Nazi Party. We do not have stringent laws against the espousing of the ideology. As a society we do try to move past it. When I can easily look at events happening inside the last month and see a fight my grandparents thought was won, I am concerned that our “progress” is only superficial. This is an issue of human rights and decent treatment to me.
Oil and gasoline are needed. I said so myself. Then why draw a line and speak out against a pipeline being completed? In this case, it is all about the potential damage that could be caused. While lauded as the safest and most environmentally friendly method of transporting oil, failures still occur. The catastrophe of those failures is worth weighing.
As I was writing the original draft for this article, I heard of a pipeline explosion in near-to-me Platte County, MO. Thankfully no one was harmed. I found it an odd coincidence that, just as I was writing about the hazards of pipelines that one would begin producing a geyser of flame locally. As my month grew busier I kept listening for more information and I happened to hear something startling.
According to a recent article in Wired magazine, there are pipelines and oil spills that pass beneath the radar. If an annual leakage total remains around 100,000 gallons they can be classified as a “low-profile leaker.” The size of any response tends to follow the size of the leak. And for the “low profile” cases, so are the amount of funds allocated for clean up. The top example the article gave was a former Taylor Energy oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. During Hurricane Ivan in 2004 not only were twenty five pipelines ruptured in resulting mudslides, but an entire oil platform was taken down as well. Before going bankrupt, Taylor Energy was able to repair only nine of the twenty five breaches. To this day, nearly thirteen years later, anywhere between eighty four and 1,470 gallons of oil still leak into the Gulf daily from this site alone. 30,000 individual spills, give or take, that are considered “minor” are said to occur annually across the United States.
Counts are not exact because the primary source of reports come from oil companies and their sites. Individually, one or the other may do the right thing and report authentically. However, the industry as a collective has an interest in not being forthright. Again, drawing from the Wired article, reported spills are compiled into a National Response Center database. This figure is essentially a measuring stick. If a particular amount is exceeded, fines upon a company can triple. To quote David Manthos of SkyTruth, “There are penalties for not reporting something you should have seen, but no penalties for under reporting.”
According to a statistic provided to via an oil lobbyist, a million gallons of oil will happen collectively in these leaks per year. According to a study contribution via SkyTruth, thirteen million gallons may be a more apt estimation. A million gallons may be a million too much for some, but thirteen times that is greater than the Exxon-Valdez. Again, this is a yearly figure. This said, a great many of these spills come from older sources. These can stem from derelict and abandoned rigs that still have oil stored in them and in the pipes, but don’t flow enough to be commercially viable. Newer pipelines do have fewer problems. Technology has improved. There are over 2.4 million miles of oil pipeline in the United States. But it may not be the big spills we need to worry about.
History does not make the future. But as is oft said, if history is not known it will repeat itself. The oil industry has learned as evidenced by better construction and by sensor technology. But the fact that we still have small leaks, large ruptures, and explosions is problematic.
“Minor” events such as the Taylor Energy platform or those that make worldwide headlines such as the Deepwater Horizon event, or BP oil spill, of 2010 are the reason why there is an outcry now. Livelihoods were ruined in 2010. Outside of the human cost including tourism, fishing, and other marine based professions, it would not be outlandish to say that entire generations of waterborne life were put into danger. The more oil that leaks, the more water it will diffuse into. There are some bacteria that evolved to eat oil. Having lived near very small, natural leaks, they had generations to acclimate. But larger organisms tend to find the ingestion hazards.
DAPL, as it was set to cross through the Sioux lands, would be near to the mouth of the Missouri river. A contamination at the source would trouble everyone downstream. In a bit of black humor this would feed into the Gulf eventually. While newer pipelines have better construction there is one common trait from the older endeavors: humans. Even with the best materials we are still foulable. After seeing events of contamination in Flint, MI, I am sobered by “What If?” If DAPL is completed, and there is a rupture at some point, will we be told immediately? Will it take people getting sick all along the Missouri River before we trace the source? I want, very much, to believe that people will act justly. Unfortunately, like much of human experience, what is just can be a matter of perspective.
Ultimately, what can be done? The only real way to bring about an end is to sever the reliance on fossil fuels we have developed. Speaking solely for myself, easier said than done. I sometimes drive, sometimes take the bus. All the products I consume come my way were delivered via oil, and some of the containers I use are derived from oil. I am certain my computer and keyboard are part of that too.
Technology progresses all the time. If you have ever been to a Renaissance Festival you have likely seen goods made by hand. Chain mail accessories, a variety or weapons, and baubles such as mugs are made as they used to be. In their source eras the methods used were the height of technological prowess. Now we can have the items machine made. The techniques used are now an art form, where once they were life and death. More modernly, there is a strong culture around classic cars. I am thinking that once newer forms of energy become wider spread that a few gallons of oil-based fuel will become a luxury good. An exorbitant cost for regular use, but good for the occasional convention or afternoon drive. For those that cherish the tech and era, they can steep themselves in it. But the world at large will use the best technology available.
In the short term, I can do well by the people closest to me. I can watch, and I can write as I am now. I can share with you what I find. The Sioux and the people who have joined with them are facing the Winter. Many visitors feel a need to remain. But for the Sioux, it is their home. If you want to know more about this standpoint, go to ocetisakowincamp.org . There you can donate if you are so inclined. Otherwise, learn a bit about their side of the experience. Some people claim sides. I have my opinions, but I know we all have to keep on living together. I hope that the world we make is brighter and healthier than the one we have inherited and left behind us.