For months, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been peacefully opposing a proposed 1,168-mile-long fracked oil pipeline that would threaten their water, their sacred sites, and their future. In recent weeks, this struggle has gained international attention, and it's easy to see why.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sued the federal government, saying the Native American tribe was not properly consulted over the project to construct a 1,168-mile crude oil pipeline that extends over four states. While proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline tout its economic boost, opponents question its environmental impact.
The US Army Corps of Engineers approved the project, granting final permits in July, to the dismay of environmentalists and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
What is the pipeline project?
The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would transport crude oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa and into Illinois. The pipeline is also known as the Bakken Oil Pipeline, named for the oil-rich area in North Dakota. An estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil is believed to be in the US portion of the Bakken Formation, according to the US Geological Survey.
The underground pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, which would be sent to markets and refineries in the Midwest, East Coast and Gulf Coast regions, according to Energy Transfer Crude Oil Co.
Why is the pipeline being constructed?
Who is protesting?
Who's on which side?
Bernie Sanders spoke out against the pipeline in November 2015, but Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has not addressed the issue.
"If candidate Clinton does nothing to address this issue yet continues into November promising Native Americans that she is our champion, then her words will be nothing but false promises -- just more bombast, more white lies to Indians," Simon Moya-Smith, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today, wrote recently in a CNN op-ed.
What happened next?
The Standing Rock Tribe's actions were the start of what will probably be a lengthy, legal fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Sioux's opposition to the pipeline intensified after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rushed to approve this dangerous pipeline using a process that deliberately avoids adequate environmental reviews or consultation with the tribe and other impacted people.
That's why this fight has galvanized so much support from around the country and the world. People -- and particularly indigenous communities -- are sick and tired of being pushed around and dismissed by the fossil fuel industry and government decision-makers who have a far too cozy relationship with the polluters.
Standing Rock tribe files a lawsuit to stop the construction
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the United States Army Corps of Engineers in late July to block construction of the pipeline. The tribe, whose cause has drawn thousands to join their protest, challenged the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings for the pipeline. Tribal leaders allege it violates several federal laws and will harm water supplies. The tribe also alleges that ancient sites have been disturbed during construction.
The request from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to halt construction of the controversial pipeline in North Dakota was denied by a U.S. District Court judge on September 9.
Tribal officials have argued that the pipeline would affect cultural and historical sites on the reservation and possibly taint the water supply via leakages, causing “irreparable harm.”
But Judge James Boasberg said in his 58 page ruling that “the Tribe has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the Court could issue.”
Friday’s decision over the fate of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through four states, followed weeks of mounting protests from Standing Rock tribal officials who have become increasingly worried about the pipeline being a half-mile from the reservation.
Attorney Jan Hasselman with the environmental group Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit on the tribe's behalf, said earlier this week any such decision would be challenged. "We will have to pursue our options with an appeal and hope that construction isn't completed while that (appeal) process is going forward," he said.
The tribe also said construction of the pipeline has already run through sacred burial sites. The pipeline’s owner Energy Transfer Partners has denied the allegations.
The Justice Department, along with the U.S. Army and Interior Department, said in a joint statement today that it would “not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions.”
The department also requested that Energy Transfer Partners “voluntarily pause all construction activity” within 20 miles east or west of the lake. It added: “This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
Protests began in April at the start of construction for the 1,170-mile oil pipeline, which runs under the Missouri River. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began to gather outside the North Dakota town of Cannonball.
More than 1,000 people had descended on the protest site prior to Friday’s decision, the Billings Gazette reported.
Last weekend, a confrontation between protesters and construction workers turned violent. Local officials said four security guards and two guard dogs were treated for injuries. A tribal spokesman said six people were attacked by guard dogs and another 30 pepper-sprayed.
On its website, Energy Transfer Partners said the pipeline will carry around 470,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois.
The Texas-based company also promised on its online Q&A to “take extreme caution when crossing sensitive environmental, wetland or resource areas.”
President Obama intervenes
Minutes after the judge's ruling, the federal government stepped into the fight over the Dakota Access oil pipeline Friday, ordering work to stop on one segment of the project in North Dakota and asking the Texas-based company building it to "voluntarily pause" action on a wider span that the Standing Rock tribe says holds sacred artifacts.
A joint statement from the Army and the Departments of Justice and the Interior said construction bordering or under Lake Oahe would not go forward and asked the Texas-based pipeline builder, Energy Transfer Partners, to stop work 20 miles to the east and west of the lake while the government reconsiders "any of its previous decisions."
The statement also said the case "highlighted the need for a serious discussion" about nationwide reforms "with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects."
National Guard Called to Protest Site
State authorities announced this week that law enforcement officers from across the state were being mobilized at the protest site, some National Guard members would work security at traffic checkpoints and another 100 would be on standby. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association asked the Justice Department to send monitors to the site because it said racial profiling is occurring.
Nearly 40 people have been arrested since the protest began in April, including tribal chairman Dave Archambault II.
A week ago, protesters and construction workers were injured when, according to tribal officials, workers bulldozed sites on private land that the tribe says in court documents are "of great historic and cultural significance." Energy Transfer Partners denied the allegations.
The state's Private Investigation and Security Board received complaints about the use of dogs and will look into whether the private security teams at the site are properly registered and licensed, board attorney Monte Rogneby said Friday, adding that he would not name the firms.
On Thursday, North Dakota's archaeologist said that piece of private land was not previously surveyed by the state would be surveyed next week and that if artifacts are found, pipeline work still could cease.
The company plans to complete the pipeline this year, and said in court papers that stopping the project would cost $1.4 billion the first year, mostly due to lost revenue in hauling crude.
A status conference in the tribe's lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 16.