Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont appeared at a rally opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Senator became a household name last year after he launched an unsuccessful presidential campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination. Appearing on a platform flanked by Native Americans, he addressed a cheering crowd in Washington D.C.
Energy Transfer Partners recently received a permit from the United States Army Corp of Engineers to construct a 1,100 mile pipeline to carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and across Iowa to join a pipeline terminal in Illinois. The project involves a significant financial investment. Experts anticipate it will cost some $3.8 billion.
The pipeline sponsors have opted to commence construction already, a significant risk and a decision that distressed environmentalists who had requested additional reviews. A few years ago, efforts to extend an oil pipeline across Nebraska failed when public concern spread that oil leaks might pollute a critical aquifer lying beneath the Great Plains. The aquifer supplies well water for people in several states. Farmers and ranchers lobbied extensively against the proposed pipeline, which ultimately did not cross Nebraska.
The Dakota Access Pipeline debate revolves around two issues galvanizing opposition to the project: the disruption of lands held sacred by people on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and concern about the potential for oil leaks irreparably damaging the aquifer. Senator Sanders addressed both topics in his recent speech. He called upon the federal government to demonstrate greater respect for Native American views and more concern for the environment.
The crowd attending the speech included some Native Americans from the Sioux Nation. Several of the speakers who joined Senator Sanders on the platform chose to wear traditional attire. The Senator castigated the federal government for mistreating tribal interests in the past.
Respecting Tribal Lands
The Dakota Access Pipeline would not actually cross land within the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. However, the new pipeline would run close to the northern edge of tribal lands, causing concern on the part of opponents that a leak might impact the reservation.
Members of Sioux communities within the Standing Rock Reservation opposed to the project have received a broad outpouring of support from other Native American tribes. Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs sometimes assists tribal governments in negotiating mineral leases and pipeline extensions, in this instance many Sioux have expressed opposition to the project.
The proposed route of the new pipeline would run underneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. The massive Missouri River sometimes floods. Senator Sanders and others have expressed concerns about oil leaks damaging the waterway. If the surging river caused a rupture in the pipeline, for instance, would oil gush from the broken pipe and seep underground to enter sensitive aquifers lying beneath much of the Great Plains?
That prospect has concerned people in many of the four states impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline. A leak might imperil public drinking water supplies, as well as water used for farming and ranching activities. Senator Sanders and others have demanded a stay in construction to permit review of the long term environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline.
In his recent speech, Senator Sanders noted that clean drinking water has become an increasingly valuable commodity. He wants to amend the Water Resources Development Act to forbid the Secretary of the Army from granting permission for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, pending the submission of an environmental impact statement.