Work continues in South Dakota today on a pipeline that runs below ground, passing through privately owned (company owned) land and federal land, and skirting sovereign and sacred Native American soil. A protest has gathered, in what has become the largest Native American coalition in over 100 years. The protestors, also called “protectors”, have been gathered there for months. Lawsuits have been filed. President Obama has requested a halt to construction until courts resolve the dispute; that request has been ignored. The US Government has temporarily blocked construction under the Missouri river, and protestors have temporarily blocked construction in some areas of federal land, but work continues on private land.
The ND National Guard and support troops from at least five states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska) have arrived on the scene with full riot gear and military tanks. The military presence, presumably summoned to help preserve the peace, has postured itself in opposition to the protestors, standing with the contractors. On the ground, the lines have blurred between private and federal lands, and tempers have flared. There has been heated rhetoric, and property damage on both sides, but protest leaders have worked to keep demonstrations prayerful and peaceful. During this time, journalists and civilians have been arrested, and peaceful protestors have been struck with various weapons including batons, shotguns with less-than-lethal ammunition, and a sound cannon. Several tribal horses have been shot and injured; one did not survive. Video streaming from people on site has been repeatedly blocked. Journalist Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” the first major media outlet to show up on site, was arrested on charges of riot for filming the actions of private security guards. Citizens outside the protest area have been frustrated over a lack of news coverage. That coverage is finally getting more thorough, and the stories do not look good.
Many people are concerned that the DAPL, running from South Dakota to Illinois, will endanger the water supply for people in the region; if an accident were to occur beneath the Mississippi River, the scope of such a disaster would be unprecedented. The native peoples have drawn a line in the sand, saying, “Water is Life.” The struggle in North Dakota has become a nationwide struggle.
According to the Bismarck Tribune, the original plans for the pipeline indicated that it would cross the Missouri just north of Bismarck, until people pointed out that a leak there would threaten the drinking water supply for North Dakota’s second biggest city. The solution, evidently, was to make the crossing instead just above the Standing Rock reservation. The poverty rate there is nearly three times the national average. The decision has been labeled “environmental racism”.
The conflict has opened old divisions along racial and cultural lines. According to some accounts, construction has already destroyed ancient burial sites, prayer grounds, and artifacts. Because media has been so noticeably silent (or silenced), speculations and misrepresentations are everywhere. Many of us find ourselves asking how we got here. Here’s what I think.
Not so many years ago, a war in the region of the Persian Gulf punctuated America’s need for a solution to our energy needs, without being dependent on foreign oil. All of us wanted to find cleaner energy solutions, but we evidently weren’t ready to make the commitment. The immediate outcry was for more affordable fossil fuel on our own turf. The affordable part of the equation in recent years has introduced citizens to a new term: fracking. Fracking is an economical way to extract petroleum. Recent accidents with pipelines and environmental concerns with the fracking process have raised red flags with those in the path of new pipeline construction projects.
DAPL is one of many pipelines beneath American soil; it’s hard for a layman to be sure of the sources for her own research, but Wikipedia presents an interesting list. On the North American continent, Canada has 9 natural gas pipelines in place; there are 6 in Mexico, and one in Puerto Rico. In the continental United States, we have 49, with two more proposed; there are 97 minor interstate pipelines, and 18 predominantly offshore pipelines. This is not indicative of the total number of miles of pipe; it’s simply a list of pipelines. DAPL is not included in this Wikipedia list.
DAPL is being built by private contractors, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. This is essentially a group of private investors (Phillips 66 owns 25%), working in typical capitalist fashion to meet the demands of an energy-hungry nation.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that as a nation, we haven’t changed our energy consumption all that much. We’ve done little things, but the demand for fuel is still quite high, and we still complain that the price we pay for fuel (the cheapest in the world) is too high. We still fuel most of our homes with petroleum products, and most of us are still driving old-style gas-guzzlers. Most of us are hoping to get better gas mileage with our next car purchase, but for now, we see those fancy electric cars as a luxury item that we can’t afford yet. We live in a capitalist economy. As long as our fossil fuel consumption and demand remains high, supply will meet us there.
How do we move ahead?
Speak out. Write your congressmen. Find out which organizations are working toward a solution, and join their efforts. Remember, when citizens protested against the advancement of nuclear power due to environmental concerns, nuclear power lost momentum; we insisted on a cleaner solution. Nuclear plants weren’t closed, but the rate of new construction slowed considerably.
Change some habits. Consider the fuel consumption of your current car, and consider the possibility that you can make a change now. The price of hybrid and electric cars is finally coming down enough for middle-class drivers to own them, and charging stations are popping up, not just in cities, but in rural areas and national parks. While your current car has value, a private sale could put enough money in your hands for a nice downpayment on a more fuel-efficient model.
Invest. Invest in clean energy research. Invest in clean solutions for personal use at home, and in all your transportation needs.
Sooner or later this particular standoff will be resolved, but the experience has heightened our awareness, and has caused all of us to take a fresh look at the spot we’re in. It’s up to all of us to work toward cleaner energy solutions that work for everyone.
Here’s some exciting news:
I visit a lot of national parks. It’s fun to see the way each park is finding ways to go greener, and teaching visitors to do likewise. Yesterday I visited Bryce Canyon National Park, and was thrilled to see that their visitors’ center has been going “green”, with a goal of zero net energy. They recently checked off the first item on their wishlist, installing a solar array that would provide ALL the necessary electrical power for the facility. It was exciting to watch the two large, automatic, self-powered panels rotate up and away from the hidden afternoon sun, to capture some brightly reflected light on a thoroughly cloudy day.
Back in North Dakota, the standoff continues, but with a clean message for us all. It seems that actor Mark Ruffalo has been working with Native Renewables founder Wahleah Johns, and recently delivered mobile solar panels on trailers, bringing clean power to the protest encampment. According to an article in EcoWatch, “The solar trailers will provide clean energy to power medical tents and other critical facilities for Native American protesters and their allies at the encampment. The trailers symbolize a healthy, equitable, prosperous energy future made possible by clean renewable energy.”
It is time for a change. Imagine our own neighborhoods, green and clean. Together, we can make it happen.