Dakota Access Pipeline Shut Down: Local Activists Recall Protests

A protest sign is planted along the pipeline route during a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in St. Anthony, North Dakota, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

On July 6, a judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) shut down and drained of its contents until the Federal government could complete a study of the danger it posed to the land it crossed. 

DAPL was highly controversial from the beginning, with its planned route across the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and across the Oglalla Aquifer, the largest fossil aquifer remaining on the North American continent and a vital source of fresh water for the irrigation of crops all across the Great Plains. The route planned was the cheapest one, and cost was the main concern for the Army Corp of Engineers and the consortium of oil companies which planned to use the pipeline to transport a slurry of “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) to a plant where it could be processed into cheap, low-grade fuels. 

The Standing Rock Sioux asked for allies to come to help them, and many did, coming from all over the continent and around the world, especially people from other Native Nations. Several people from the mid-Willamette Valley took part in actions to help oppose the construction of the pipeline on Standing Rock land. 

Local resident Mato Waksape, a citizen of the Band of the Potawatomi Dakota Blackfeet, was one of those people. Hearing about the judge’s ruling, he said, “We don’t trust the latest ruling. There are exploitation projects all across the continent. But, we’re on standby against them, and people build confidence by victories.” 

Si Natta, a Coalita Chinook in Corvallis, agreed that the ruling seemed “performative”.  

Natta continued, “[President] Obama granted a temporary stay [which President Trump immediately rescinded]. We had veterans who came to join us, but they left when the snowstorm began. It got down to forty degrees below zero – a lot of people left. I worked with the messaging team then, trying to keep getting the word out. 

“I’m glad the company will lose money, anyway. As for anything else, well, we’ll take it one day at a time and see what happens.” 

The oil companies stand to lose a great deal of money as they are obliged to drain the “dilbit” from the pipeline and store it in tanks somewhere while the Environmental Protection Agency reviews the possible damage which a catastrophic failure of the pipeline could do to Standing Rock land and to farmers who depend on the Aquifer – as well as how much damage has already been done over the last four years by the frequent small leaks which have already taken place, and can be expected to take place in future. They will be appealing this decision, and may even be able to get the order lifted before the study is finished. 

Only time will tell whether this order will remain in place, or if the “dilbit” slurry will soon flow again through the pipeline. If the pipeline does remain shut down, “dilbit” will still reach the refinery by truck or train.  

John M. Burt