Energy Transfer Partners, Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum finished developing the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172 mile-long pipeline meant to transport oil from North Dakota Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, in 2017 amid protests. Those protests arose after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the US Army Corps of Engineers for violating a variety of laws such as the Historic Preservation Act. If that was not bad enough, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that expedited the environmental impact statement, which further ignited the protests. However, after its conception, the Dakota Access Pipeline was only active until 2020 after the Federal Judge James E. Boasberg ruled that the pipeline fell short of passing the most recent environmental review.
Thus, the judge suspended its use until it successfully underwent a new environmental review estimated to take about 13 months, which Native Americans and environmental activists perceived as a huge win. Unfortunately, after disputing the ruling, a different court (the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) halted the pipeline shutdown as Energy Transfer and its adversaries file briefs. While the Dakota Access Pipeline allows for a safer form of transporting oil, the court should shut down the pipeline indefinitely due to it being built on culturally relevant land, polluting crucial water sources, and exacerbating climate change.
Energy Transfer Partners chose the surrounding area around the pipeline because it provided “better access to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries and other downstream markets.” Thus, Energy Transfer Partners would go ahead with its plan to construct the pipeline even without the Native Americans’ approval or consent. They had no qualms about marginalizing an already marginalized group. On top of having to face adverse life outcomes that manifest as high unemployment rates, high alcoholism rates, low education rates, among other things, the Sioux now have to contend with a disrupted culture. Thus, instead of having their land respected and preserved, the Sioux now have had to cope with sacrilege in the form of destroyed burial grounds and prayer grounds once the US Appeals Court ruled that the pipeline may remain active while the courts contemplate whether they should shut down the pipeline. Consequently, in allowing the pipeline to remain active, we are deliberately allowing Native Americans and other minority groups in the region like the poor to be further subject to pollution, ecological hazards, and climate hazards.
If that was not bad enough, while some argue that the pipeline’s detecting technology might not identify all leakages, it does identify most—even those as small as 1% of flow. They claim this is better than transporting the oil via more dangerous alternatives like road and rail, which is valid to a certain extent; however, any spill, no matter how small, can endanger the surrounding communities. So, it is troubling to hear that the pipeline and many other pipelines are responsible for multiple leakages spanning many years. For instance, within the first year, the Dakota Access Pipeline leaked at least five times; specialists gauged the leaks to be relatively small since the leaks were “ranging from a 20 gallon leak in North Dakota to 168 gallons in Illinois.” However, as was stated before, any leak, no matter how “small” can be detrimental to the well-being of the surrounding communities. Researchers have associated drinking contaminated water with health effects that range, depending on the level of exposure and duration, from gastrointestinal illness, to nervous or reproductive system effects, to chronic diseases.
While pro-pipeline advocates claim that the pipeline overcompensates in safety standards when compared to federal demands so much so that the likelihood of a spill is unlikely, we cannot trust them for various reasons. For instance, the subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics, has a damning record in terms of oil spills, ranking the 8th worst for volume spilled per mile. Its ranking is not surprising since Energy Transfer and Sunoco are responsible for 35 out of 313 spills reported since 2012 causing water contamination and/or tainted drinking water in a private well. Along with those infractions, they are linked to “19 groundwater contamination sites in the most recent monitoring report from the Texas Groundwater Protection Committee.” Thus, on top of it being built without considering the Sioux people and polluting the water, the pipeline is also responsible for direct and indirect environmental consequences.
Directly, researchers have linked oil leakage with soil contamination, which degrades a finite resource that affects the “food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, our health and the health of all organisms on the planet.” For instance, due to soil contamination, the contaminants accumulate within plants to the point that they fuse with the existing tissue that is later eaten by the animals that we eat. Thus, soil contamination tampers with the natural food chain, which is associated with a chain reaction that threatens our health and future. Indirectly, pipelines are a symbol of our insatiable use of fossil fuels that require us to sacrifice future generations of fungi, plants, animals, and humans. In the end, pipelines that transport oil are exacerbating climate change. Due to our indolence and insensitivity, the fossil fuel industry has been allowed to live on despite the rise in extreme events, global temperature rise, warming oceans, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, declining Arctic Sea ice, and impending extinction.
Call to Action
Climate change has become such a looming presence of extinction around the world that countless youths, adults, scientists, and celebrities have taken the mantle to contribute to change because their respective nations are not doing enough. For instance, Greta Thunberg and other activists recently sent a chiding environmental letter to the EU in response to the EU proclamation to reach zero emission by 2050. Yet, the United States is disputably the worst, especially after President Donald Trump, the same individual that advocated and signed a presidential memorandum, which allowed for the construction of the pipeline in 2017 while simultaneously expediting the environmental review, opted out of the Paris Agreement. In the end, this is but one instance in which President Donald Trump has negated previously established environmental policies and recommendations due to his aversion to red tape that is set in place to keep his people safe in his pursuit for neoliberalism and free-market, as was seen when Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19 hit.
It is crucial to take action against policies and presidential decisions, especially those that will harm us for generations to come, as they are meant to bypass our defenses in these trying times. We must advocate for the indefinite end of the Dakota Access Pipeline and all other pipelines since they contribute to the problem of global warming that is coming for all life. Fortunately, our policymakers, politicians, and fellow citizens are hearing us. Due to the efforts of four hundred thousand people before the Paris Agreement, we see new changes. Pipelines and coal mines have been blocked or canceled. Oil companies cannot access the American Arctic. Countless cities are now 100% committed to renewable energy. By doing this, not only are we forcing leaders to protect our interest instead of solely the rich’s interest, but we are also taking our fates into our hands instead of standing idly by.