As with just about every issue on Earth, most folks who are providing commentary on the Standing Rock Reservation protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline don’t have very much real information about the particular conflict.
In order to have a reasoned and intelligent conversation about it, one would imagine wanting to learn more about the following:
- WHOSE land in particular are we talking about. Is the section of the pipeline in question traveling across Sioux land? Is it traveling across other private land? Is it traveling across Federal land? In order to even begin a conversation about rights, we sort of have to figure out whose rights will in fact be violated. If I read the news correctly, the pipeline comes close to the tribal land, but does not cross it. A more interesting question is why the company and the state did not actually route the pipeline right through the Sioux land and negotiate with them on lease fees and rights?
- Conditional on (1), WHOSE water in particular are we talking about. What are water rights institutions like in North Dakota? Are they like traditional western prior appropriation rights or are they more similar to the riparian rights regimes that tend to prevail east of the 100th parallel?
- Why did the federal government, the state government, the Standing Rock tribe, and other interested parties not sit down PRIOR to the pipeline being nearly completed and discuss possible alternative sightings and routings? Or did they? Does anyone actually report on this?
- Are there Standing Rock cultural resources being threatened here? Which ones and how? How have previous conflicts over cultural resources been adjudicated? I suspect there are thousands of miles of roads, train tracks, telephone wires, electric wires, pipelines, etc. that already intersect land from the Standing Rock tribe as well as from non-native populations. How are those situations handled and what, if anything, is different about this particular case? Are there not national historical preservation statutes that need to be adhered to? Are the North Dakota historical and cultural preservation statutes? Which, if any, were violated and why?
- What are the actual risks to the water from this pipeline crossing under a range of scenarios?
- What are OTHER risks to water in this area? Do dam and irrigation diversions threaten it? How much? How much does runoff from farming activities threaten water? How much do chemical and oil spills from above ground activities threaten the water? Are there other risks to the water that we are not familiar with? If so, where does the pipeline risk rank? And what measures are and were taken in other cases to protect local water sources from being contaminated?
- Are there other Missouri River “infrastructure” crossings? For example, are there other pipelines carrying water, gas, oil, etc.? Are there bridges? Power lines? Railroad crossings? What mitigation efforts were and are made in those situations and how does this particular pipeline issue differ from it?
- What does federal law say about the ability of tribes to negotiate with developers in the first place? Are tribes negotiating over the sighting of wind and other energy projects?
The issue of climate and past treatment of the native american people and lands are not unique to this project, but if these are the reasons for the uproar, I’d like to know why in particular this would be the incident that blew up. I am skeptical that folks want to really dig deep into 1-8 above. I’d like to be wrong of course.