Native Americans encouraged as judge delays North Dakota pipeline ruling

Saul Loeb

Saul Loeb

The Guardian
August 25th, 2016
By: Oliver Milman

Native American activists have said they are still hopeful they can halt the construction of a controversial oil pipeline that will run from North Dakota to Illinois, after a federal judge said he needed more time to decide whether indigenous rights were violated when the project was approved.

Judge James Boasberg of the US district court said he will make a decision by 9 September on whether to stop work on the pipeline during tribal leaders’ lawsuit against the US army Corps of Engineers for approving the Dakota Access project.

The pipeline will run close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation in North Dakota and across several rivers, including the Missouri and the Mississippi, that supply drinking water for millions of people.

“Whatever the final outcome in court, I believe we have already established an important principle – that is, tribes will be heard on important matters that affect our vital interests,” said Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault, who has previously said the project would “knowingly poison water”.

The attempt to force a temporary halt to the project came amid vociferous protests on the prairies of North Dakota and outside the court in Washington DC, where tribal members were joined by famous faces, including actors Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley, to decry the 1,000-mile-long pipeline.

Signs at the protest read “We are protectors not protesters” and “Obey your laws”. A petition launched by a number of young native Americans to stop the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and protect water that is a “crucial part of our lives” has more than 94,000 signatures, including those of actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo.

After months of simmering tensions, protesters, many on horseback, have confronted massed ranks of police in North Dakota in the past week, resulting in dozens of arrests and a shutdown of the pipeline work site. Several thousand people from more than 50 other tribes have joined forces with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe at a protest camp at the construction site.

Energy Transfer, the company behind Dakota Access, has responded by seeking a restraining order against demonstrators, accusing them of trespassing and threatening workers, and by deploying their own armed security guards. Jack Dalrymple, governor of North Dakota, declared a state of emergency due to what he called the “significant public safety concern” raised by the protests.

The pipeline is a $3.7bn project to funnel 500,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois. The project is expected to be finished by the end of the year but tribal leaders have raised concerns that the pipeline, which will run under the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, will pollute drinking water for millions of people and disturb sacred sites. In total, the pipeline will make 200 river crossings in four states.

Energy Transfer has sought to calm fears by claiming that the pipeline could be quickly sealed off if leaks are detected and has promised “openness, honesty and responsiveness” with landowners. But opponents of the project point out that oil spills are worryingly familiar in North Dakota, with a leak in 2014 causing more than 20,000 barrels of oil to seep into a wheat field and landing the company responsible, Tesoro Logistics, with a $4m cleanup bill.

Read more at the Guardian.