BISMARCK, North Dakota — A protest of a four-state oil pipeline turned violent after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota.
Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey says four security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews Saturday afternoon, September 3rd at the site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear says protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.
Preskey says there were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred. She says the crowd disbursed when officers arrived and no one was arrested.
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.
The leader of the tribe that is protesting the $3.8 billion four-state oil pipeline says the “cause is just.”
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II is among some 30 people that have been arrested in recent weeks for interfering with the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in southern North Dakota.
His contemporaries say he’s the right person at the right time to lead the fight.
Native Americans from reservations hundreds of miles away have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s growing protest against the oil pipeline, which they say could disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for 8,000 tribal members and millions further downstream.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says it has found several sites of “significant cultural and historic value” along the path of the proposed pipeline.
The tribe is challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ pipeline, which crosses the Dakotas and Iowa to Illinois, including near the reservation.
A federal judge will rule before September 9th whether construction can be halted on the pipeline.
The Three Affiliated Tribes ordered the project halted last month, saying Paradigm Energy Partners made no assurances that water supplies wouldn’t be harmed. A federal judge temporarily allowed construction to continue.
On Thursday, September 1st, the judge again refused to stop construction.
The company says it has federal permission to build under Lake Sakakawea, the largest of six Missouri River reservoirs.
Tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz said in court documents filed Friday, September 2nd that the tribe was only recently allowed to survey private land north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Mentz says researches found cairns, burials and other sites of historic significance to Native Americans.
Among the arrests that have been made during protests over this pipeline was a man whom authorities had to cut free after he bound himself to construction equipment. At least two others were arrested Wednesday, August 31st during a rally near Highway 6 outside St. Anthony, North Dakota.
Several anti-pipeline protesters also were arrested during a rally Wednesday in Boone, Iowa. The local sheriff’s office says they could face misdemeanor trespassing charges after blocking access to a Dakota Access construction staging site.
In North Dakota, Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson troopers briefly closed the highway due to the protest, and construction was temporarily halted.
This, as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is calling on the U.S. government to allow the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to have a say regarding the pipeline that they say could disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for 8,000 tribal members.
In a statement issued Wednesday, August 31st, the forum’s chairman Alvaro Pop Ac called for a “fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process to resolve this serious issue and to avoid escalation into violence and further human rights abuses.”
The forum provides U.N. representation to indigenous peoples around the globe.
Here’s everything you need to know in this case:
1. 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.
2. Why is the pipeline being constructed?
The project developer, Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Crude Oil, says the pipeline would help the United States become less dependent on importing energy from unstable regions of the world. It says a pipeline is the safest, most cost-effective and environmentally responsible way to move crude oil, removing dependency on rails and trucks.
It also estimates the pipeline would bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments as well as add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs.
The proposal comes as a glut of cheap oil has devastated North Dakota’s economy. The state had enjoyed a major boom, but after hitting highs in 2014, it suffered a major economic downturn.
The project developers say the $3.7 billion project will “bring significant economic benefits to the region that it transverses.”
3. Who is protesting?
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a complaint in federal court alleging that “the construction and operation of the pipeline … threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe.”
There are also concerns that digging the pipeline under the Missouri River would affect the tribe’s drinking water supply. The tribe, represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, has asked for an injunction.
Based in Fort Yates, North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe, a successor to the Great Sioux Nation. Other Native American tribes and nations have joined its efforts.
“We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites,” Dave Archambault II, the elected chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement.
“But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”
Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota disputes the tribe’s chief complaint that the Army Corps did not properly consult it.
“If there is some way for the corps to work to meet the concerns of the tribe, they should certainly do that. But (there) has been a consultation process. If the tribe doesn’t feel that that has been sufficient, again, they can protest as long as they do it peacefully and safely, but ultimately their recourse is to the courts,” the Republican senator told CNN affiliate KFYR-TV in Bismarck, North Dakota.
About 30 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, signed a letter to President Barack Obama, slamming the Dakota Access Pipeline as “yet another example of an oil pipeline project being permitted without public engagement or sufficient environmental review.”
They appealed to him to reject the project — as he did with the Keystone XL pipeline.
Protests have been held in North Dakota and Washington.
Construction equipment involved in the pipeline project in Iowa was set ablaze in suspected arson fires, reports say.
4. 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. CNN reached out to the Clinton campaign for comment on the issue and has not yet received a response.
“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.
Celebrities such as Shailene Woodley, Susan Sarandon and Rosario Dawson have spoken out against the pipeline.
Leonardo DiCaprio tweeted that he was “inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux’s efforts to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
5. What’s next?
The tribe’s actions may be the start of a lengthy, legal fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Meanwhile, construction work on the pipeline is ongoing.
US District Judge James Boasberg said he wants to absorb both sides of the argument before issuing a ruling, which is expected by September 9, KFYR reported.