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Dakota Access Pipeline authorized to continue construction

by Emmy Frank - The Stylus
Mon, Feb 13th 2017 10:40 pm
Photo taken from Fox News on Twitter
Photo taken from Fox News on Twitter

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the United States Army Corps of Engineers granted an easement in North Dakota for the Dakota Access Pipeline. This means that Dakota Access, operating under the larger firm Energy Transfer Partners, has received all necessary federal authorizations to proceed with the project. According to Steve Almasy's article for CNN, "Dakota Access Pipeline: Army issues final permit" the firm's spokeswoman Vicki Granado said that work would start "immediately."

The decision came just weeks after President Donald Trump signed a memorandum aimed at advancing both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines. In his "Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline", available to view on the White House website, he instructed the Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers  to "take all actions necessary and appropriate" that would authorize construction and operation of the pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been a highly controversial topic since its inception. In a complaint filed in federal court, available to view on the "Earth Justice" website, Standing Rock argued against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They claimed that the pipeline would jeopardize the Tribe's "environmental and economic well-being" and would "damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe." Many environmental groups and concerned citizens have shared the sentiment. 

One of the principal concerns is the project's potential contamination of the surrounding water sources. In his article, Almasy states that digging has already begun under Lake Oahe, which is a section of the Missouri River in North Dakota. He explains that this may consequently affect the tribes' drinking water quality as well as water used by 17 million people living downstream. 

Such concerns are not unwarranted. Since North Dakota's oil production boom in 2008, there has been an increase in the number of spills at production and disposal sites. According to the journal "Science of the The Total Environment", spills of over 75 million liters were documented between 2008 and 2015. Of these, 17 million liters were oil spills and almost 53 million liters were brine spills. Brine is wastewater from oil production that has a high salt content and a mixture of chemicals, including toxic and radioactive elements. Over 2.5 million liters of reported spills have entered watersheds. 

It is obvious that oil spills are detrimental to the environment, but it is still largely unknown the exact effects brine spills have. A study entitled "Environmental signatures and effects of an oil and gas wastewater spill in Williston Basin, North Dakota" was published for the journal "Science of the Total Environment". Performed along Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River, researchers found that even when cleanups were done after spills, only some types of contaminaters were successfully removed while other types continued to persist in the environment.

Despite so many environmental concerns, Almasy noted that the Army Corps of Engineers will not draft an environmental impact statement. The Standing Rock Sioux said that they will argue in court that this environmental impact statement was wrongfully removed.

The pipeline's supporters point to the economic benefits the Dakota Access Pipeline will bring. The pipeline, which is already more than half complete, would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. This will help ease the U.S. reliance on other nations for oil. The developer also estimates the pipeline will bring $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments and will add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs. 

As for disrespecting Native American land, supporters are quick to point out that the pipeline route does not even cross the Standing Rock Indian Reservation's land. It is, in fact, less than a mile from their designated land, although this land was originally promised to them in the now-revoked 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

It is hard to deny the economic benefits the Dakota Access Pipeline will bring. However, what is money and jobs when it comes at the cost of sacrificing clean water? Spills happen and they happen often. An oil spill would be catastrophic and a brine spill would persist in the environment indefinitely. We all know what's currently happening in Flint, Michigan—must we have another water crisis? Concerns over water quality have been brought up during the pipeline's construction even before the controversy regarding Native American communities. An alternative route north of Bismarck, North Dakota, was proposed but was ultimately rejected. Why? Because of its close proximity to areas that supply water. Why is it that those water-supplying areas were more precious than Lake Oahe? Is this, perhaps, a result of racism? While many Native Americans enjoy the water of Lake Oahe, the city of Bismarck is where white people make up 92.4 percent of the population. 

I don't think the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline does justice to the millions of people who use Lake Oahe's water every day. Until clean water can 100 percent be guaranteed to its people, the pipeline is unjust. It is time to put the people's safety before corporate interests and invest in alternate energy, instead of relying on the non-renewable source.


mfran8@u.brockport.edu 

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