It was a classic battle of David and Goliath. A ramshackle collective of peaceful water protectors versus the long, strong arm of big oil.
Many were hurt during the heightening tensions between the two divides; one protester had her arm blown to smithereens by a concussion grenade. Others were maced, shot with rubber bullets, and doused with water in sub-zero temperatures. Despite the brutal conditions, the protests that began with several tribal nations and a media blackout turned into a protracted sit-in, which will be remembered best for its peaceful resistance against a seemingly unconquerable foe. For now, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe can finally let out a sigh of relief.
After six months of protests, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement that would allow Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to build the pipeline across Lake Oahe, which sits between unceded Sioux territory and the Standing Rock Indian reservation.
What It Means
An easement is a law that allows a company to cross someone else’s land for a specific purpose, i.e. building an oil pipeline. The Obama Administration denied the Dakota Pipeline easement, meaning that the pipeline cannot be built in Indian territory.
To continue building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners will now have to reroute the pipeline. The US Army Corps of Engineers added a stipulation that alternative routes would need extensive environmental impact statements, along with “full public input and analysis.”
Although celebrations are widespread around the Standing Rock camp, not everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.
Is It Really Over?
ETP has nearly unlimited funds, and the backing (and investments) of President-elect Trump. Perhaps it is telling, if not ominous, that they’re not worried about recent developments. In an official statement, ETP wrote:
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 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. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.
ETP can appeal the decision, likely taking it to Trump’s desk. Like it or not, the ETP is correct in calling opposition to the pipeline a narrow political constituency, and nobody knows that better than the President-elect, who found his victory easily within non-coastal states that, by and large, do not support the resistance against fossil fuels.
There has been a long and persistent call among rural America to reignite the gas and oil industries in hopes of bringing back jobs and boosting local economies. It would be unwise to expect the President-elect to bypass his core supporters by denying a repealed easement.
Some water protectors are vowing to stay in the camp, anticipating such events unfolding. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault told non-Sioux protestors that at least they could leave — for now.
"Nothing will happen this winter," Archambault said. "The current administration did the right thing, and we need to educate the incoming administration and help them understand the right decision was made."
It may be freezing in North Dakota right now. But for environmentalists eyeing the next four years, another winter is coming.