Image Credit: Energy Transfer Partners

In July 2016, much to the dismay of environmentalists and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) — the federal government body in charge of the nation's waterways — granted the final permits to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). When completed, the 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion USD pipeline that snakes through four states will be able to transport up to 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken Formation area of North Dakota to refineries in Illinois, daily. The builder, Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, asserts that the underground pipeline is a more direct, cost-effective, safer, and environmentally responsible way to transport crude oil.

However, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who have been opposed to the pipeline since they first heard about it in 2014, have a different view. They maintain that the pipeline’s route, which goes through the tribe’s ancestral land, will violate and destroy several of their sacred ceremonial sites. Even worse, the pipeline crosses under the Missouri River that lies just a mile away from their reservation. A leak in the conduit would pollute the only source of clean water available to the Native Americans.

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky (cc 2.0 via Flickr)

Though the builders confidently argue that this will not happen, the Native Americans say they know of at least 200 breaks that have occurred in the various pipelines that follow similar routes north of the reservation. The oil leaks have not only poisoned the water, but have also caused the fish to develop tumors and sores. While there is very little that can be done about existing pipelines, the 8000 members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe were not going to allow Dakota Access LLC to poison their water supply without putting up a fight.

In addition to asking the court to order the USACE to withdraw the permit to build the pipeline, tribe members also set up the Sacred Stone Camp to monitor the construction sites near the reservation. As the word about the pipeline has spread, the number of peaceful protestors, or “protectors” as they call themselves, has grown rapidly. As of Sept 1, representatives from 188 Native American tribes, as well as thousands of concerned citizens and environmentalists, have arrived to help the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight to halt the pipeline construction. Though local officials have tried everything to try to disperse the protestors — from cutting off the water supply to blocking the only highway available to get food — their numbers keep growing.

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky (cc 2.0 via Flickr)

Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners has both countersued the Native American tribe for blocking construction and begun building the controversial pipeline. On September 3, the company aggravated the already tense situation further, by plowing bulldozers through two locations identified by the Standing Rock Sioux as sacred and historic sites.

On Friday, September 9, the Native Americans were dealt another blow when Judge James Boasberg turned down Standing Rock Sioux’s request to stop the pipeline’s construction. Fortunately, soon after, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior all issued a joint statement prohibiting development within 20-miles of the conflict region, until it can be determined if the pipeline’s route is in violation of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Photo Credit: Sacred Stone Camp via Facebook

While this may have slowed down Energy Transfer Partners, the fight is far from over. With over 49% of the pipeline already built, the company is going to try everything it can to convince authorities to allow them to continue. But supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, that include over 30 environmentalist groups, are as just determined not to let Energy Transfer Partners or the US government ignore their concerns. No matter how this ends, one thing is for sure — the unified showdown of the tribes will force corporations and lawmakers to think twice before disregarding the opinions and wishes of Native Americans, as they have often done in the past.