By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline is on hold —for now — because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not approve a required easement near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D.
Standing Sioux Tribe members and their supporters, who have been protesting construction of the pipeline for months, were elated with the Army Corps’ Dec. 4 decision. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, L.P. criticized the statement as political and vowed to complete the pipeline without any additional rerouting.
Father Bud Grant, a theologian and environmental ethicist at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, said “this move could be — and it would seem likely to be — overturned with the incoming administration. Marginalized communities most commonly bear the burden of environmental consequences for the decisions made by others in the name of short-term profit. Still, this is a hopeful demonstration of the power of citizen activism. It is likely to be an increasingly necessary instrument in the coming years. This has been — and hopefully will continue to be — an exercise in the Catholic Social Justice doctrine of ‘solidarity.’”
In a news release, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said she based her decision on a need to explore alternative routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do. …The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” That would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis, she added.
Her office had previously announced Nov. 14 that it was delaying the easement decision to allow for discussions with the tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing at Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir. The news release stated that tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.
They believe the pipeline jeopardizes not only the reservation’s water supply in Cannon Ball, N.D., but the earth which they hold sacred. Supporters tout the pipeline for its economic and environmental benefits as well as being safer than rail and truck transportation.
The approximately 1,172-mile pipeline would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Ill., passing through Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois along the way. The 30-inch diameter pipeline is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels. The current proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, an Army Corps of Engineers project on the Missouri River.
Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. and Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. described the Army Corps’ decision “a purely political action. … For more than three years now, Dakota Access Pipeline has done nothing but play by the rules. The Army Corps of Engineers agrees, and has said so publicly and in federal court filings. The Corps’ review process and its decisions have been ratified by two federal courts. The Army Corps confirmed this again today when it stated its ‘policy decision’ does ‘not alter the Army’s position that the Corps’ prior reviews and actions have comported with legal requirements.’”
The partners also pointed out that the permit for the river crossing at Lake Oahe had been granted in July. “The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of the law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency. As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”
Sister Anne Martin Phelan, a Clinton Franciscan, thought the issue was important enough that she participated in a rally Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She noted that she had witnessed the pipeline being placed through Iowa cornfields, rivers and pastures. There is little realization of the dangers to future Iowans and future crops, she observed in her Nov. 22 post on the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa Facebook page.
Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based organization leading a religious response to global warming, posted a message to its members praising the decision and expressing solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. The Army Corps has “rejected the oil companies’ plans to drill the pipeline crossing under Lake Oahe, where it would have threatened the water and sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. We join David Archambault II, leader of the Standing Rock Sioux, in commending President Obama, the Department of Justice, the Army Corps and the Dept. of the Interior for taking action to do the right thing.”