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The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are being oversimplified

Oil is being extracted in the Dakotas via both fracking and non-fracking methods, so banning fracking would not stop the pipeline since the oil produced by methods other than fracking (enormous amounts of light sweet crude) would still need to be transported somehow and a pipeline is the cheapest (in the long-term) and safest in terms of frequency of spills  but most dangerous in terms of severity of spills as compared to trucking and rail transport. The most dangerous thing about the DAPL is that it would pass under the Missouri River. A major oil spill into one of the largest rivers in North America that supplies water to millions would be a major national or regional disaster.

This pipeline could be prevented from being constructed via regulatory action by Federal or State agencies or even by an Executive Order, but as we have seen so far the State authorities seem to have little to no sympathy with protesters. However Federal Authorities, especially President Obama have taken some sympathetic action in favor of the pipeline’s opponents such as temporarily blocking construction of the pipeline (subsequently reversed by a Federal court) and ordering a DOJ investigation into violence against protesters by local and state police and private security.

It is unlikely that Obama would issue an Executive Order stopping construction on the pipeline for three reasons. One reason is that the Executive Order would only prevent construction until the end of the year when it would expire, only to be renewed or not by the next President. The other reasons are that Obama fears that such an action would have a negative effect on Clinton’s chances of beating Trump in the election and that stopping construction of pipelines generally will not decrease fracking or make transport of oil safer.

The issue of the pipeline’s proposed route from the Dakotas to Illinois is another issue. Originally this leg of the pipeline was not meant to pass through or immediately adjacent to tribal land. The original route would have passed through a populated non-tribal/non-native area. After objections from that community on health, safety, and environmental grounds the route of the pipeline was changed to pass through Federal and privately held land within and near the Standing Rock Reservation. The reasons for this appear to be racist and this is one of the most obvious reasons to oppose this route of this pipeline.

The two main protest camps are on two very different pieces of land and have been treated very differently by authorities. The larger and more peaceful camp is on Federally owned land and protesters have been allowed to maintain their camp by Federal authorities. The smaller camp where most of the arrests and violence have occurred is on privately owned land recently sold to the company building the pipeline. Protesters are being arrested and removed from the property because they are indeed committing the crime of “trespassing” according to the current land deed and real estate law.

Complicating this issue, the private land was tribal land in the past, but since the tribe allowed private land ownership and sales of land it was eventually sold to farmers who sold it to the oil company. The Tribe is claiming eminent domain to regain tribal control of the land, but this is not how it is supposed to be done. There must be a court order granting eminent domain transfer of land title, then notices need to presented to the current land owner announcing the date by which they must vacate the premises and how much compensation they will receive for the land.

If the land title is transferred back to the tribe it would force part of the pipeline to find another route but the pipeline would still be built with a bypass steering further away from Standing Rock. If the Tribe is serious about the eminent domain claim they should lawyer up and fight it all the way to the Supreme Court. It could set some very useful legal precedents regarding tribal land issues, environmental issues, and eminent domain issues.

Banning fracking would be a good thing but it won’t stop all oil production and won’t stop the need for oil to be transported either via pipelines or by truck and train.

Stopping the pipeline from passing through tribal land won’t stop the pipeline from being constructed altogether.

Federal authorities have the legal authority to either remove or allow protesters on the federal land and have chosen to allow the protests.

The private land owner, who is one and the same as the pipeline construction company, has the right to request local and state law enforcement to remove protesters from their land.

The President is right to demand a DOJ investigation into violence against protesters.

Native Americans are right to oppose a pipeline (or truck or trains) transporting oil near their homes, water sources, burial grounds, and ancestral land.

Americans have the right to oppose oil pipelines crossing major waterways such as the Missouri River.

People of the world have the right to demand that their governmental and industrial leaders invest more in renewable energy sources to reduce the need for oil, but as long as we are consuming oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear we need to understand that these energy products which power our homes require transportation and that transportation always comes with potential risk to the environment and community.

 

 

 

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