U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denies final DAPL permit
The Dakota Access Pipeline protests resulted in at least a short-term victory with the announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will deny the current easement for the pipeline and look for better alternatives. Activists have been protesting for months against the route, saying it threatens sacred lands and could contaminate the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Protecting a community's water supply
Protestors allege that the pipeline threatens water supplies because a portion of it tunnels under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River that supplies water to an estimated 18 million people downstream, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The pipeline crosses the lake less than a half mile north of their lands and should a break occur, the tribe fears it will contaminate water sources before the intake. Protestors also assert that sacred burial sites have been desecrated, or are at risk of being destroyed if the construction continues.
Fort Yates intake reaches end of life
The current intake in Fort Yates was built in the 1960s, has been plagued with issues, and is shallow, which created serious difficulties with area water supplies during the drought in 2002.
This prompted plans and construction of the new water treatment plant and intake farther south, from a deeper location in the river that will better serve the Standing Rock tribe. The tribe advocated strongly for the project, which has been underway for nearly a decade and the new intake currently supplies water to portions of the Standing Rock community.
A new intake
The water intake for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, located at Fort Yates, which is just about 20 miles south of the proposed pipeline crossing, is at the center of the controversy surrounding the water issue. However, reports recently noted, that the intake is slated to close at the end of this year or early next year when a new intake location is fully completed in Mobridge, SD - an area that is nearly 70 miles downstream from the proposed pipeline crossing. The North Dakota Public Service Commission says a new intake will "effectively reduce concerns" over any water impacts from the DAPL.
Regulators and environmental analysts indicated that if any type of spill occurred, it would have less of an impact on the new intake location, based on river flow rates and distance. Since the Missouri River moves at about 5-8 mph, it would take anywhere from 9-14 hours for a spill to reach the new intake - plenty of time for intake to be increased to ensure supplies, then valves to be shut down before the spill reached the area allegedly reducing concerns about a spill threatening the tribe's water supply.
Upon completion the new intake will provide water service to the entire reservation, and the Fort Yates water intake location will be shut down.
A statement by the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, David Archambault, noted that the relocation of the intake farther away does not ease the tribe's concerns over potential water contamination threats by the DAPL.
Pipelines, the safest method for oil transport
The U.S. Department of Transportation hails pipelines as the safest method of transport for oil, based on statistics, and the company responsible for installing, operating, and maintaining the line, Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., promises that it will do so with the "most advanced technology and monitoring systems to make it safer."
However, a ProPublica report in 2012 pointed to potential issues with the nation's pipelines, citing their age, majority of them being at least 50 years old, and subject to minimal oversight by the federal government, as putting the environment and public health at risk.
Water contamination not the only concern
Concerns over an oil spill that would potentially contaminate the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is just one of the issues that protestors are fighting for regarding the DAPL. Other protests center on the apparent systematic injustices that infringe on Native American land rights, which are often disputed.
Opinions expressed by David Archambault in the New York Times indicated that eminent domain has robbed their tribe of lands in the past--including for the building of the dam that created Lake Oahu. Archambault wrote that the lands taken in 1958 to build the dam and form the reservoir were "riverfront forests, fruit orchards, and [the tribe's] most fertile farmland."
Statements from the company noted that the pipeline, where possible, will parallel existing pipelines, power lines, or roads to reduce the impact to the environment. The company also pledged to "minimize disruptions and achieve full restoration of impacted land." While the company that owns the DAPL says the pipeline will also infuse money into local economies, the Standing Rock tribe is more concerned about what will happen to their sacred lands, which has yet to be addressed.
Archambault argued that if the pipeline breaks, not only will the water source source for nearly 18 million people be contaminated, it will also have a devastating impact on the environment and little has been done to address Native American land rights and the preservation of sacred lands. Archambault is open to negotiations, and the Army Corp of Engineers has halted construction of the pipeline until they are able to further investigate the concerns.
Although the decision has been made to research better alternatives, protestors fear that the incoming Trump administration, in favor of the pipeline, will overturn it and allow the construction of the current route to move forward. Company officials have also stated they will not reroute the line.