Protesters say a leak in the Dakota Access pipeline, which Trump just advanced, could be a ‘death sentence’ – Business Insider
President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed executive orders to
advance construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and the
Keystone XL pipeline.
Activists had fought against both pipelines — the protest at the
Standing Rock reservation over the Dakota Access pipeline that
was led by Native Americans
made headlines in 2016. In December, the US Army Corps of
rejected the permit that the project needed for its
But on Tuesday, Trump signed a series of directives aimed at
speeding up the pipeline’s approval process. One of them ordered
an end to what he called “incredibly
cumbersome” environmental reviews. Those reviews are seen by
many government agencies like the Environmental Protection
Agency, as well as environmentalists, as cornerstones to ensuring
the environment is taken into account when new construction
projects are ordered.
#NoDAPL and what’s to come
Beginning in September, thousands of protesters, including
representatives from more than 100 Native American tribes, camped
out in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where they endured
freezing temperatures and the powerful sprays of a “water
cannon” to protest the pipeline’s construction.
The project is a proposed 1,172-mile pipe that would shuttle half
a million barrels of North Dakota-produced oil to refining
markets in Illinois. Proponents of the pipeline say it would
lessen dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs and growing
As proposed, the pipeline would pass through North Dakota’s Lake
Oahe, a burial site sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and a major
source of drinking water for the community.
“The main reason it’s such a big deal here is that it’s going to
affect our water supply,” Aries Yumul, an assistant principal at
North Dakota’s Todd County School District and a self-identified
water protector with the
Oceti Sakowin, the proper name for the people commonly known
as the Sioux,
told Business Insider in November.
So protesters, whose rallying
cry on Twitter was marked by the #NoDAPL hashtag, were joyous
when the Army Corps of Engineers, which was in charge of permits
for the project, appeared to move against it in December. But as
reported in December, it may have been too early to
Here’s why environmentalists and people who live and work near
the proposed pipeline are so concerned.
Contaminated water is a massive health problem
Should the Dakota Access pipeline leak or burst, the effects
could be devastating.
And leak pipelines do. Since 1995, there have been more than
2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum
pipelines, adding up to roughly $3 billion in property damage,
according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials
Safety Administration analyzed by The Associated Press. An
average of 121 accidents happened in both 2013 and 2014.
An in-depth report in 2010 from Worcester Polytechnic Institute
that looked at the effects of three major oil spills found
increased incidences of cancer and digestive problems in
people who had ingested the oil directly (in drinking water) or
indirectly (through eating the meat of livestock exposed to the
In addition, people who had used contaminated water for bathing
or laundry appeared to experience more skin problems, ranging
from mild rashes to severe and lasting eczema and malignant skin
Most large-scale environmental projects require extensive legal
review — and that is what Trump is targeting
The Army Corps of Engineers must comply with several
environmental laws in permitting the pipeline, including the
National Environmental Policy Act.
Passed in 1970, NEPA basically ensures that the government
considers the potential environmental effects of any federal
project, like a new highway or airport, before building it.
The Standing Rock Sioux say that the Dakota Access pipeline’s
review process was not done properly. In a lawsuit it
filed in July against the Army Corps of Engineers, the tribe
said the permit process was rushed and undertaken largely without
If the pipeline were to leak or burst, it would send oil deep
into the Missouri River, the
Standing Rock Sioux’s primary source of water, which the
tribe relies on for everything from bathing to drinking.
For that reason, the tribe says the Army Corps of Engineers could
violate not just one, but two laws: NEPA and the Clean Water Act.
Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge any pollutant
from a single identifiable source — such as a pipe — into certain
bodies of water without a permit.
“The Missouri River is the tribe’s only source of water,”
Saha, a senior policy associate at the Brookings Institution,
told me in November. “If this leaks, it is going to spill into
the river. So the tribe’s legal stance — that they were not
adequately consulted, that there are potential water issues here
— their legal concerns are strong.”
Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the
company building the pipeline, responded to Business Insider’s
request for comment last fall in an email, saying: “Crude
pipelines in the country have a very specific review and approval
process that must be followed. Crude/oil lines are approved at
the state level, which is why all of the review and environmental
analysis was done by the four states through which this pipeline
passes. The exception to that is the crossing of waterways and
federally owned land, which are under the jurisdiction of the
Army Corps of Engineers to review and approve.”
That “specific review and approval process” is precisely what
Trump’s most recent directive appears to target.
owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners, according to his
most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, The New
York Times reported on Tuesday. The Times added that a Trump
spokesperson said last month that Trump had sold all of his stock
during the summer, yet Trump has failed to provide any
documentation proving the sale.
The pipeline was originally designed to run much farther north —
near Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. But as
Bill McKibben wrote in The New Yorker, officials rerouted it
when people there raised concerns that it could jeopardize the
community’s water supply.
But now, instead of risking Bismarck, the route could threaten
the Standing Rock Sioux.
“Our aquifers and rivers are fed by this river,” Yumul said. “If
it were to get contaminated, it would affect all of the tribal
nations. The idea of that … it would be a death sentence at