By Benjamin Alcorn
In December of 2016, protesters in North Dakota celebrated as the Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement halting construction of the highly contested Dakota Access Pipeline. The decision was reached following months of protests led by the Dakota Sioux of the Standing Rock reservation.
Soon after the statement from the Army Corps, and just days into his presidency, Donald Trump released an executive order to expedite the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, stating that the project is “in national interest,” and promising to utilize domestic steel.
What is it?
The $3.7 billion project, initiated by the company Energy Transfer Partners, was planned to replace the less economical system of shipping crude oil from the Bakken oil fields to a port in Illinois, before being shipped to refineries. The 12,000 mile long pipeline was projected to be finished by January 2017.
The decision to halt construction was reached after months of protests by over 200 Native American tribes and thousands of protesters from all over the country, including 4,000 veterans, and Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein. At its peak, an estimated 10,000 protesters occupied the camps.
The water protectors argued that the pipeline would contaminate the watershed system if a leak were to occur, and were concerned that construction involved the digging up of sacred burial sites. Further, the Dakota Sioux claim that the pipeline runs through land illegally taken from the tribe in an 1868 treaty.
Environmental groups point out the dangers of pipelines, and in an analysis of public records, the Center for Biological Diversity concluded that since “1986 pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels per year or more than 3 million gallons.”
In response to Trump’s executive order, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe maintained that they would continue to fight the pipeline. However, the project will not be able to continue until an environmental impact statement (EIS) is conducted, which could take months to complete. In the meantime, both protesters and law enforcement prepare for the ensuing battle.