Standing Up for Standing Rock

30 December 2016

Part 1 – Piece Pipes: America’s Addiction to Hazardous Liquid Pipelines

In Part 1 of our series, we focus on America’s continuing reliance on hazardous liquid pipelines to deliver fuel across the country. We will be examining the benifits and costs of added pipelines to our infrastructure to explore ways we can limit our dependence on fossil fuels and look toward a brighter, cleaner future.


The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 is regarded as one of the most successful victories for the Sioux Indians on record. Led by famous warriors like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes joined together to fight the United States in order to protect their land and maintain their way of life. 140 years ago the Sioux fought for sovereignty, their promised territory, and its natural resources. History seems to be repeating itself. What was once a fight over grassland and buffalo has now become about protecting water, not only for the Sioux people, but for the wildlife and everyone that lives downstream. Descendants of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull now gather by the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, proclaiming themselves as Water Protectors to stop a pipeline that threatens the Missouri River, on the northern edge of their territory. The Sioux have opposed the pipeline since 2014, but now that it’s on their doorstep they’re mobilizing their people and gaining worldwide attention. And, like the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Sioux are not alone. Three hundred other tribes, and supporters from all over the world have joined in protesting the pipeline. This is the largest Native American led protest in history and an impressive opposition to big American oil companies like Energy Transfer Partners, who own 75% of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners says that the 3.7 billion dollar pipeline is a boon for the nation’s energy independence: it’s safer than delivering oil via truck or train; and it helps farmers by freeing up railroads to ship midwest grain. They also say that the protesting Sioux and their supporters are trespassing on private property. The Sioux Tribe argues that the property the pipeline is being built on is actually within their territory based on the boundaries outlined in the treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851.

The treaties of Fort Laramie, and the broken promises from the United States, fueled the great Sioux war of 1876. The current situation at Standing Rock is reminiscent of those stories of the wild west. Native Americans and their supporters are being bullied on the front lines, and as the pressures rise, so escalates the violence. Pipeline security forces are fortifying their side with dogs, pepper spray, military vehicles, water cannons, explosive flash bombs, and snipers firing rubber bullets. Raids have been conducted on the camps in the path of the pipeline, ripping people from prayer circles and arresting them. But the Sioux aren’t the only people at risk from the encroaching pipeline force. The Dakota Access Pipeline is planned to cross river systems that come dangerously close to thirteen Native American reservations and other low income communities in the region. Will we see more of the same outcry in those areas?

The Sioux Water Protectors are concerned for the wellbeing of the Missouri River and the many other waterways being crossed downstream. A leak in the pipeline could threaten the fresh water for millions of people, the local wildlife, and the irrigation for a substantial amount of our country’s agriculture. Surprisingly, pipeline leaks are fairly common, based on the pipeline industry’s track record. Just between 2010 and 2015 there were 1000 pipeline ruptures in the United States, 7 million gallons of crude oil was spilled, ecosystems were destroyed, and the cleanup efforts cost billions. Just last month a damaged pipeline spilled 55,000 gallons of gasoline near Lancaster, PA, threatening drinking water for thousands. That spill was just an hour away from where I’m sitting, writing this article. For many of us, the protests in North Dakota seem far away, but chances are, there are hazardous liquid pipelines running right below your feet. Using this interactive map from the National Pipeline Mapping System, you can see what pipelines run through your area.

The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world. We measure up at a staggering 2.4 million miles of pipe. That’s enough to circle the Earth 100 times! It’s time to ask some questions regarding pipelines and the safety of our water, communities, and ecosystems. Are pipelines the most intelligent way to build up infrastructure? Shouldn’t we, as a public, have a right to choose where and what toxins cross our rivers and oceans? Should we allow private development companies the luxury of operating under eminent domain laws? Are we becoming more and more addicted to burning and selling, dangerous, carbon emitting, fossil fuels? If we are trying to build toward energy independence as a nation, should we spend billions of dollars on old technology, or should we be looking at investing in clean, renewable options?