The Black Snake

Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides, Who cover faults, at last shame derides.

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It would seem we are quite forlorn of adequate news coverage concerning the atrocities being committed on Native American land. Please don’t misunderstand me; a number of articles have been published in print and online that have covered some aspects of the events taking place just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. However, the mainstream media seems to be all too concerned with the tweets of the President-elect and the tirades of Kanye West to take notice of the roiling tumult that now besets North Dakota.

However, with the events that have transpired in the last twenty-four hours, I hope that the mainstream media will shift their attention towards this pressing matter.

As with all topics, we must do quite a bit of research so we can properly discuss this contentious pipeline, lest we are accused of intersecting any modicum of truth too briefly or accidentally.

What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?

First announced in 2014, the Dakota Access Pipeline (a $3.8 billion project) intends to be a 1,200-mile oil pipeline stretching through four states from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline is being built by a company called Energy Transfer Partners—a company currently being purchased by Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, a stakeholder in the Dakota Access Pipeline—and is directly financed by seventeen financial institutions including well-known banks such as Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo.

The crude oil comes from the Bakken Shale Formation of the Williston Basin, a region which extends from eastern Montana to the northwestern portion of North Dakota. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it is estimated that 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the Formation via fracking—another controversial practice.

To date, a majority of the pipeline has been constructed with the hopes of finishing construction in early (if not the very beginning of) 2017; the biggest impediment to construction has been the protests by environmentalists and indigenous tribes.

Why the Protests?

Well, there are some environmental and health concerns, as well as concerns about the violation and desecration of sacred lands.

For the sake of fairness, let’s not mention climate science. But keep it in mind throughout this reading.

“How did it come to this?”

The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross underneath the Missouri River, the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Naturally, one of the main objections, to the pipeline focuses on the growing number of leaks and the overt threat that would pose to the health of surrounding communities.

Since 2009, the annual number of significant accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines has shot up by almost 60 percent, roughly matching the rise in U.S. crude oil production… [n]early two-thirds of the leaks during that time have been linked to corrosion or material, welding and equipment failures, problems often associated with older pipelines, although they also can occur in newer ones, too.

The above excerpt comes from an article I implore all to read, wherein recent petroleum pipeline accidents have despoiled beaches and aquatic life, threatened water supplies, and have caused huge financial losses. Potable water sources have also been threatened in New York State and elsewhere due to egregious hazardous materials practices, as evidenced by the hundreds of Superfund sites along the East Coast. This ought to make one wary of companies hellbent on transporting oil near drinking water.

Proponents of the pipeline—few, if any, have publicly emerged—argue that the crude oil extracted from the Bakken Shale Formation is substantially more volatile (and, therefore, flammable) than crude oil extracted elsewhere. Additionally, the steady increase of railway accidents while transporting the volatile crude has made the prospects of a pipeline more attractive to investors. The dangers of transporting crude oil—or flammable materials in general—are illustrated by tragedies like the one which devastated Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. However, I posit that such considerations strengthen the argument of the opposition and their determination to wean humanity off fossil fuels.

Another important aspect of the Standing Rock protests involves the very “intimate connection between landscape and religion” in Native American life and their imminent desecration. I cannot feign knowledge in this area and must, therefore, recommend some more reading material to the reader. This article, by Rosalyn R. LaPier, helps illuminate the importance of sacred sites in Native American communities.

Thoughts About Standing Rock

To say that the Dakota Access “debate has been dangerously blown out of proportion,” as was said by the authors of this contemptible tripe, betokens a vast ignorance of the physical abuse protesters have been subjected to at the hands of private security and law enforcement. Myriad videos litter social media as protesters are peppered with rubber bullets, blinded by mace and tear gas, and knocked back by torrents of water. (The latter occurs now as the temperature plummets in North Dakota). In full disclosure, the authors of the opinion article are themselves representatives of the American Petroleum Institute and Energy Transfer Partners. Thus, it should come as no surprise the article aims to denigrate Standing Rock protesters by portraying them as terrorists and rioters interrupting a lawful enterprise.

The article ponders one very important question: “How did it come to this?” Of course, the authors speak of the ever-increasing violence, the acts of “domestic terrorism” committed by the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“This is, after all, a pipeline project. Fourteen other pipelines cross the Missouri River, including nine that carry oil or petroleum product.”

Oh, how could this have happened?

The self-righteous tone of the article persists for another six paragraphs, callously placing blame on protesters for all the violent acts taking place, neglecting to mention the increasing concern by Amnesty International and the United Nations about excessive force. Let us not forget: the protesters are unarmed.

So, how did this happen? Well, as I adumbrated above, there are environmental concerns and serious health consequences should the pipeline’s integrity be compromised. As we should have learned from the Love Canal and Valley of the Drums incidents, the structural integrity of containers intended to hold hazardous materials are far from secure.

To add another dimension as to how this happened: citizens have taken a more active role in effecting change worldwide. Let’s not fool ourselves; if our most recent presidential election cycle has irrevocably demonstrated, people of all political stripes carry with them the atavistic urges of violent reprisal when confronted with a perceived wrong, something we must all struggle to contain. It is such urges that make seemingly beneficent individuals capable of acts of barbarism in the name of peaceful protests or in the name of de-escalating said protests. We are, after all, poorly evolved primate mammals.

Further, there are major qualms about the desecration of holy places, especially among peoples that don’t have sacred written texts. This makes them more keen to protect the landscape which substitutes for scripture. Alas, this latter grievance can be the antecedent to vituperative and violent backlash. However, the multitudes of video evidence that have recently emerged on social media indicate the protesters aren’t the aggressive agents; in fact, the United Nations is investigating allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement.

Unfortunately, I don’t think protesters should look for help from an incumbent administration whose head is convinced that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

Whether or not, as the above article espouses, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe failed to engage in a consultation process, the protesters have now made it quite evident they wish to engage.

2 comments on “The Black Snake”

  1. I’ve always focused more on international politics and race, so this issue has been on the periphery of my radar, I really liked your overview of it. I had hoped for an administration that would at least listen to the protestors, but that no longer is possible. Do you think there is an avenue for progress here?

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about my overview. I do think there is a possibility for progress. The indigenous people want to have a say about how the pipeline affects their way of life, religious and health-wise. I think the Energy Transfer Company needs to sit down with leaders to discuss an alternative route for the pipeline where water can be protected and sacred lands are not violated. However, I haven’t read anything yet that suggests that such talks will take place.

      Liked by 1 person

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