The Dakota Access Pipeline is designed to carry almost 20 million gallons of oil across the Midwest every day.
But Native American tribes fiercely oppose the project, arguing that it will disturb historic and sacred sites, and the governor has called in the National Guard after tense standoffs.
If finished, the 30-inch underground pipes will stretch 1,172 miles and carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The US Geological Survey estimates there are 7.4 billion barrels of "undiscovered, technically recoverable oil" at the pipeline's starting point in North Dakota. So the idea is to get that oil out of the ground and to refineries and markets in other parts of the US.
Energy Transfer Partners — the Texas-based company behind the pipeline — said the $3.7 billion project will create up to 12,000 construction jobs.
The company has also framed the pipeline as an environmentally friendly alternative to transporting oil via trucks and trains, which can explode, and as a way to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. The pipeline has been in the works for years, but it was approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers on July 25.
But Native Americans — especially the North Dakota–based Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — along with protesters and environmentalists aren't buying it. They've mounted a big campaign trying to stop the pipeline.
In July — two days after the pipeline was approved — the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit attempting to stop construction, arguing that the pipeline "crosses areas of great historical and cultural significance" and "crosses waters of utmost cultural, spiritual, ecological, and economic significance."
The tribe said it also fears an oil spill would contaminate drinking water since the pipeline would run beneath a lake that lies just a half-mile upstream from the tribe's reservation.
Ultimately, the tribe argues, the US Army Corps of Engineers violated regulations when it approved the pipeline, and that construction should be stopped.
Intense protests by the tribe and its allies have been going on for more than six months. In August, hundreds of new demonstrators arrived at a camp in the area that reportedly now includes members of dozens of Native American tribes.
In mid-August, protesters succeeded in shutting down construction at one site after a tense standoff with state police.
Many people were arrested.
Protesters also have the support of several environmental groups. The Center for Biological Diversity has called the pipeline "dangerous, unnecessary, and monumentally disrespectful." And Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called the pipeline a bad idea, adding that his organization "is proud to support our Native American allies in this struggle."
On Sept. 3, protesters — many from the Lakota and Dakota tribes — clashed with private security guards. Tribal spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said six people were bitten by security dogs, while 30 others were pepper-sprayed.
On Sept. 6, a judge ordered a temporary stop to construction on one part of the pipeline's proposed route, but allowed it to continue on another. Native Americans who oppose the pipeline criticized the decision as inadequate and said it would lead to construction crews destroying sacred sites.
Protesters have discussed on Facebook various ways to stay warm at the camp through the winter.
On Sept. 9, the federal judge hearing the lawsuit denied the tribe's request to halt construction, saying that the Army Corps of Engineers complied with the law and "the Tribe has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any" construction stoppage. Here's the relevant portion or the opinion:
Despite the ruling, the Justice Department, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Army announced Friday that they would not allow construction within 20 miles east or west of a lake near reservation land because "important issues raised by the" tribes remain. As a result, construction in the vicinity of the lake was halted.
The trio of departments also said Friday the case highlights the "need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects."
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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