June 18, 2019 | 72° F

EDITORIAL: Dakota Access Pipeline in murky waters

Construction can compromise quality of life for Native Americans


From Japan to New Zealand, the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline is catching the attention of people all over the world, spawning about 100 global protests that call for the end of its construction. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,170-mile pipeline that extracts oil from the ground and allows half a million barrels of crude oil to travel from North Dakota to Illinois. In total, the pipeline will make 200 river crossings, including the Missouri River, the longest river in North America. The point of contention lies particularly in a construction site in North Dakota, near the Missouri River, where there have been massive camp protests for the pipeline’s half-mile proximity to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe reservation boundary. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe argues that the pipeline could potentially contaminate the Missouri River and pollute the water that the already-impoverished tribe relies on.

The chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, insists that the pipeline is built with high standards to prevent leaking. But words are meaningless, and the only way to ensure that water quality is preserved is to prevent factors that could result in the water’s contamination in the first place. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which decides on the construction of pipelines over major waterways, approved the Dakota Access plan despite warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the worldwide furor over the potential damage it can cause. Because there are never really any guarantees in life, it is preferable to err on the side of caution, especially when lives and the sustainability of a vulnerable community are on the line. Preventative measures trumps crossing fingers and hoping that a 1,170-mile pipe could remain intact at all sites years and years into the future.

Before oil leaks, the construction of an enormous pipe that encompasses more than 1,000 miles can already have a veritable effect on the ecosystem by interfering with the natural state of wildlife, wetlands, vegetation and soil. Installing the pipe means having to dig and uproot huge tracts of land, as well as invading the natural habitat of a plethora of plants and animals. These issues are largely invisible to the public because it does not directly affect the lives of human beings, but damage to critical parts of the ecosystem will surely and eventually reverberate to humans in many ways.

Overall, the Dakota Access Pipeline shows that environmental degradation primarily affects people who are part of vulnerable communities. The pipeline was originally intended to run near the City of Bismarck, which has an overwhelmingly white population, and objections against the pipeline forced it to be closer to the Native American land. It becomes more apparent that dangerous pipelines aren’t constructed nearby mostly white and wealthy neighborhoods, they are made nearby the land of people who have been historically marginalized and lack the voice and resources to oppose it. Water quality isn’t compromised in Beverly Hills, California, or Short Hills, New Jersey — they happen nearby the land of the Standing Sioux Tribe or Flint, Michigan. The dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline also demonstrates that when minority groups speak, in ways amplified by  the support of global protestors, they continue to be ignored. While President Obama has been nudged to temporarily halt construction by an overwhelming opposition to the pipeline, the plan remains intact and can eventually move forward.

The preservation of Native American culture, land and lives is an opportunity to break — or at the bare minimum ameliorate — the shameful U.S. narrative of abuse against the indigenous people. It has become a very American characteristic to exploit people and the environment, but the opportunity to halt this pipeline shows that it doesn't have to be that way. 

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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