The Army announced today that it would not be approving the easement to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue construction on its current path. They had suspended the easement on November 14 in response to protests from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose water supply was potentially threatened by the pipeline’s proposed passage under Lake Oahe. The pipeline was also running over sacred land and burial sites. The protests have been growing rapidly since April, most recently with a group of over 2000 veterans committing to protect protesters as a “human shield.”
The Episcopal Church has been active and vocal in its stance in opposition to the DAPL, including priests and lay people joining protests, and a formal statement from the Presiding Bishop. Presiding Bishop Curry also sent a public letter to the governor of North Dakota and the sheriff of Morton County, urging them to “monitor the nature and tone of the policing actions by local and state law enforcement, the National Guard, and private contractors.” He noted especially the use of rubber bullets and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. Rev John Floberg of the Diocese of North Dakota has been instrumental in organizing protests and mobilizing the Episcopal Church to take a stand.
The Army released the following statement regarding their decision:
The Department of the Army will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works announced today…
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels. The current proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, an Army Corps of Engineers project on the Missouri River.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II released a statement in response saying, “[we] will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.” He continued by thanking the protesters and supporters, and said that the Tribe looked forward to spending the winter with loved ones. Archambault added that he hoped that the relationship between the Tribe and local law enforcement could be healed.
Environmentalists celebrated this decision along with the protesters. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, “history has taught us that it is never a question whether a pipeline will spill, but rather a question of when. A comprehensive environmental review will show that this dirty and dangerous project will threaten the safety of every community it cuts through.”
Not everyone was pleased, however. North Dakota congressman, Kevin Cramer, said “today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. Roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms, and water lines will be very difficult, if not impossible, to build when criminal behavior is rewarded this way.” Governor Dalrymple also decried the decision in a statement as prolonging the situation and making it “political.” There is some doubt as to whether Trump’s administration will uphold this decision. Trump owns stock in the company that is building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, and has expressed support for the project. The chief executive of ETP has previously said that the company was unwilling to reroute the pipeline, although there has been no immediate response to today’s release.
For now, however, this is a victory to be celebrated, for Native American sovereignty, the environment, and protection of sacred spaces.