The 9 million gallons of oil leaking from pipelines

The Dakota Access Pipeline has made countless headlines over the past year, primarily focused on the protests that emerged from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. These protests were a result of the pipeline being built a meager mile from the Sioux tribe’s burial grounds and only water source. Despite the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer warning the company that owns the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, of these conflicts, planning and pre-construction has continued (Penn-Roco 177). If the pipeline were to leak, over 8,000 people living on and around the reservation would be left with an irrecoverably contaminated water source. In this essay, I will be presenting evidence from scholarly sources that prove that the likelihood of a leak, the laws being broken in the pipeline’s construction, and the threat the pipeline poses to the local Sioux population and their sacred land, all point to the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline creates more complications than opportunities.  Historically, pipelines have been proven to be prone to leaks and spills. There have been 1,300 crude oil spills in the United States since 2010, amounting to nearly 9 million gallons of oil leaking from pipelines (Harrington). But the Dakota Access Pipeline in particular has a distressing potential for leaks due to its operator. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the company prepared to operate the pipeline, Sunoco, has reported over 203 leaks over the past six years, making it the pipeline operator with the highest amount of oil leaks. These numbers point to the fact that protestors fears are not unfounded. A leak is very probable, and the results would be catastrophic for the Sioux tribe. A heartbreaking example of what could happen to the Standing Rock tribe took place in November this year as 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota. Similar to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone pipeline runs near another Sioux reservation, which holds an aquifer and historical sites that tribal members fear may be affected by the disastrous leak nearby (Almasy, Cuervas). It is not difficult to imagine that in a few years these fears might be a reality for the population of the Standing Rock reservation. There are several statutes and regulations that have been completely disregarded in the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. For instance, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 requires the Federal Government to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise traditional religions…including access to sites” (Cong. 469). This act is critical to the Standing Rock’s case against the pipeline, as former historic preservation officer Tim Mentz notes that at least five sacred sites would be destroyed in the construction of the pipeline. One site, for example, contains 82 stone features that are considered rare and of “very great cultural and historical significance”, as they represent an area used exclusively for prayer.  Further, Mentz is confident that burials are present throughout the pipeline’s corridor, as they are marked by rock cairns, common for Sioux burials. If this is true, the Federal Government will have also violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 which “requires consultations with tribes…regarding the treatment and disposition of human remains” (Cong. 3048). According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was not adequately consulted, claiming they were refused information at the beginning stages of the project (Tauli-Corpuz). This meant the tribe was not aware how close the pipeline would be to the Standing Rock Reservation and to their sacred sites, as well as the impact it would have on both.  Advocates for the pipeline often argue that it will bring both jobs and energy independence to America (Cong. Digest,12). While this sounds lucrative on paper, it is worth noting that a majority of the jobs created for the pipeline are temporary and thus will bring only short-term benefits. Contrast this with the long-term consequences that the Sioux tribe must contend with, like the loss of historical sites and potential contamination of drinking water, and it becomes clear how little the general population will reap the rewards for such a project, if any. This argument extends to the pipeline’s agencies claim that it will bring energy independence by providing a domestic supply of crude oil, thereby reducing the amount of oil imported into the U.S. This claim is worth further scrutiny as a 40-year old ban on exporting oil was recently lifted, making it more profitable for oil companies to sell oil outside of the States than sell it here (Cong. 101). During a conference, Energy Transfer Partners presented the Dakota Access Pipeline as “exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on U.S. energy exports”, illustrating where oil may be exported from the Gulf Coast to other continents and countries (Energy Transfer Equity & Energy Transfer Partners, 8). It is clear that those invested in the pipeline do not truly intend to keep the oil that is transported domestic, but to sell to the highest bidder worldwide. This must give us pause, for if the pipeline is not creating permanent jobs, or decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil then what, exactly, is it doing for us as a country? The answer is simple: nothing. What it is doing for those who are heavily invested is generating profit, while those who gain little to nothing bear the bulk of its consequences.  Though the evidence against the pipeline is only just beginning, it is obvious that the impact the pipeline will have is a negative one. From the legal issues with its construction, to its probability of leaking and its potential contamination of the local population, it follows that the pipeline will do more harm than good. Those who back the pipeline’s creation claim that it will aid America by providing jobs and independence, while evidence points to neither being accurate. It is time we as a nation realize that the Dakota Access Pipeline, or any pipeline, will not solve our problems but exacerbate them.   


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