You may have noticed some of your Facebook friends appear in a remote corner of North Dakota yesterday. They're showing solidarity for the Native American community in North Dakota who are protesting the construction of a pipeline near their lands. Here's the lowdown.
What’s going on?
A Texan energy company is trying to build an oil pipeline known as the ‘Dakota Access Pipeline’ between North Dakota and Illinois. But the pipeline passes right by the Standing Rock Indian reservation in North Dakota, and some of the residents of Standing Rock think it will threaten their water supply and disturb sacred burial grounds. They’ve been actively protesting the pipeline for a few months now, joined by other Native Americans and environmentalist groups from around the country.
A Facebook campaign trending yesterday urged users to ‘check in’ to Standing Rock to confuse police who may be tracking people attending the protests. Over a million people took part, so if your friends seemed to be teleporting to the Peace Garden State yesterday, that’s what was going on.
Fracking, a controversial way to cheaply extract oil in places where drilling used to be much more difficult – like North Dakota – has created a huge boom in the state's oil production. While the rest of the country was struggling to come back from the recession, some parts of North Dakota had
rates under 1% because of jobs created by fracking. They currently have the third lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3%.
But the boom has also caused a ton of problems. For instance, North Dakota is pumping a lot more oil, but it doesn’t have new ways of getting that oil to the rest of the country other than rail, which is expensive. The pipeline is an opportunity to transport it faster, and make some money.
Pipeline supporters are also arguing that the pipeline will have all kinds of spillover benefits, or
, that would make it great for everyone. Here’s a few things they say it’ll do:
“Many of people trying to stop the pipeline have asked to be called ‘water protectors’ as opposed to ‘protesters’.
Then there’s the land rights issue. The pipeline will pass very close to the the land officially recognized as the Standing Rock Indian Reservation – so close that it might infringe on sacred tribal burial sites.
Some people are unhappy with the idea of building big pipelines in general. Lowering prices for oil transport will only encourage people to use more oil, making cleaner alternatives like wind or solar less attractive Environmentalists used to spend a lot of time trying to get the government to regulate fossil fuel use, but recently they’ve shifted to trying to stop big infrastructure projects one-by-one. That’s partly what the big fight over the Keystone XL pipeline was about, and it’s in play again here.
Why does it matter that so many of the pipeline’s opponents are Native Americans?
Plus, some are challenging the pipeline in court on the grounds that the government didn’t abide by the political rights that Native Americans have been granted in light of the brutal history between their communities and the US government – one of them being to give residents extra notice of significant infrastructural projects in their region. It’s not entirely clear if the government did this, , so construction near the Missouri river has been temporarily stopped.
What happens now?
The pipeline company is currently racing to get the pipeline as close to the Missouri river as they legally can. Part of the hope is that it will be harder to stop a thousand mile project that is only a few miles from completion. The opponents of the pipeline in North Dakota are settling in for winter and preparing for a ‘last stand’ to keep the pipeline from crossing the river. Stay tuned.