Analysis

Court orders shut down of Dakota Access Pipeline

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters against Donald Trump. Photo: Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA – , CC BY 2.0

In what is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and water protectors, a federal judge has ordered a full shutdown of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

On July 6, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg reinforced his March 25 ruling for new environmental review of the pipeline by ordering the pipeline fully shut down and drained by August 5. 

The Dakota access pipeline is a 1,172 mile long oil pipeline that began construction in March of 2016. A section of the pipeline was to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri river and a major source of clean water in the area. While the pipeline was not crossing reservation land, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe raised concern about the potential impact on their water supply and protected culturally significant sites. Invoking terms and land deals made in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Standing Rock leadership sought to shut down the pipeline, a project they were not ever even properly consulted on. 

As opposition to the pipeline grew Native youth from Standing Rock and other tribal nations formed a direct action and social media campaign called “ReZpect Our Water.” The youth campaign inspired adults to form an encampment along the proposed route, calling themselves water protectors and dubbing the camp “Sacred Stone Camp”. As the movement grew, thousands of native activists and environmental groups poured into the camp, creating the need for overflow camps.

The fight against the Dakota access pipeline captured international media attention, although capitalist news media in the United States appeared to be fighting against giving this struggle the attention and airtime it deserved. Nonetheless, independent media, livestreams, and information released by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe allowed those not present to see the horrific treatment of the unarmed but militant water protectors by State, County, and National Guard based police as well as private security forces.

From October 2016 to February 2017, millions of people across the world watched as water protectors gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation were brutally attacked by militarized police. In scenes that mirror the current police violence across the United States, security guards and police deployed sonic weapons, attack dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even high pressure water cannons in freezing weather on those daring to stand in the path of the proposed pipeline. In addition, mass arrests of approximately 140 people including journalists covering these incidents were carried out, with those detained reporting dehumanizing, humiliating treatment and intentionally unsafe, unsanitary conditions.

On December 4, 2016, the Obama administration issued a temporary halt of the pipeline under the pretense of assessing the situation. Since President-Elect Trump had made clear he would reverse any injunction and allow construction of the pipeline once he assumed office, the Obama injunction was seen as nothing more than an empty gesture and an attempt at appeasement. On January 24,  2017,, his fourth day in office, Trump signed an executive order that allowed the pipeline to continue construction. 

While the camp’s population dwindled due to the excessive crackdowns, harsh weather and the temporary halt of construction, the efforts of the water protectors were not in vain and should not be viewed as a failure. The massive pressure and ensuing movement for native civil and environmental rights, as well as the sovereignty of tribal nations, could not be ignored. This direct action campaign led to a shift in public perception of oil pipelines and many other proposed pipelines have since been challenged.

With several environmental groups and this shift in public opinion, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continued to battle in courts, this time proving that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had failed to produce a suitable environmental impact study. While Energy Transfer, the conglomerate responsible for the pipeline, insists they will overturn this ruling and is refusing to shut down the pipeline, they are now being subject to more intense scrutiny and will have difficulty proving DAPL, which leaked five times in 2017 alone, is as safe as they claim.

While the Dakota Access Pipeline’s ultimate fate remains undecided, this is nevertheless an extremely important victory for the sovereignty of Native nations, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and millions of people who cannot afford their water supply being compromised by capitalist greed.

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