Gratitude for the Water Protectors


The victory at Standing Rock (at least for the present) has so many components to celebrate.

It’s astounding that 10,000 people converged on the open plain, with no water, food, sanitation, or housing, and worked together to make it all happen.  The first camp was started by Standing Rock youth.



Elders and women helped everyone stay focused.


So many who went reported an overwhelming spirit of prayer and support in the camps. With over 5,000 people trained in non-violence, it was one of the largest non-violent actions in US history.

Hundreds of other tribes from all over the nation and world offered financial and physical support.   I know quite a few tribal members from California who made pilgrimages out there, some several times.  Some paddled down the Missouri River to get there.


The unarmed Water Protectors endured water cannons in 25F weather, among numerous other acts of police brutality.  They embodied the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.



The non-tribal allies played a huge role– and few gave more than Sophia Wilansky, who lost most of her arm in what turned out to be one of the last shots fired.


Veterans poured into camp in the face of a blizzard to defy an order to vacate.


In an act of non-violence, the International Indigenous Youth Council gave snacks and supplies to the Morton County Sheriffs.  A wide-ranging discussion of non-violence ensued when they posted it on their Facebook page.  

I would be remiss not to acknowledge Mel Thom, Dennis Banks, John Trudell, Leonard Peltier, Billy Frank Jr., the American Indian Movement (AIM) and so many others that laid the foundations for the tribal sovereignty movement back in the 1960s and 70s.  I heard a shout out to AIM by an elder at the Veterans Forgiveness Ceremony.  (On a side note, now is the time for Obama to pardon Leonard Peltier!  Here are the details of his case.)



The Oceti Sakowin Camp beyond the Highway 1806 road block (which is still in place, hampering emergency routes in current blizzard conditions.

There were a number of other elements that led to this victory:

  • the strong legal basis for the tribe’s claims;
  • the steady leadership of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault, with support from his tribal council and strong legal team that has been on this issue from the beginning (here is Archambault’s statement on the victory);
  • President Obama’s willingness to not be bullied by the pipeline company’s push to build 99% of the pipeline before getting their federal permit; and
  • the decline in Bakken production (shout out to Prius drivers for their role in this), making the pipeline unnecessary.
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Dakota Access’s Trail of Broken Laws

There are several laws and regulations designed specifically to prevent the kind of conflict the world is witnessing at Standing Rock.  Energy Transfer Partners and the US Army Corp willfully ignored these laws and created the current crisis.  While thousands of unarmed people have been subject to policy brutality, and hundreds have been imprisoned, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and the US Army Corp have gotten off free so far.  Here are the laws they have violated.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)  42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.; 40 C.F.R. Parts 1500-1508

NEPA requires different levels of environmental permitting, depending on the size of the project, for any activity that involves federal or tribal funding or affects their resources.  By crossing rivers and federal lands (including the US Army Corp lands along the Missouri River), by being an interstate project, and by passing through tribal historical sites and within spitting distance of their freshwater intake valves, the Dakota Access Pipeline certainly meets this criteria.  Technically, it’s up to the Army Corp to require NEPA compliance.  ETP avoided triggering a larger Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in favor of smaller Environmental Assessments (EA’s) by dividing their one project into numerous smaller ones.  (The language is counter-intuitive, but a “statement” (EIS) is a much bigger permit, and a much longer process involving more public scrutiny, than an “assessment”(EA).) Courts have ruled against the practice of partitioning a large project into smaller ones to avoid an EIS.  

The violation:  In this case, the Army Corp is clearly violating NEPA by not requiring an EIS. 

ETP also needs the much-discussed Army Corp easement and Clean Water Act Permit to go under the river.  This was granted in July 2016, but revoked on September 9 by President Obama, citing the need for additional tribal consultation.  It has yet to be re-issued.

What should have happened:  The Army Corp should have required an EIS in early 2014 before a route was selected, so that route alternatives became part of the deliberative process open to public comment.  An EIS should include multiple alternatives for public review and comment.  That did not happen here.

Environmental Justice, Executive Order 12898

The 1994 Executive Order 12898 requires federal agencies to avoid disproportionately adverse human health or environmental impacts of its programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations.  According to the US EPA, this order “means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”  The conflict at Standing Rock is a classic example of why that order was issued and what it is supposed to prevent.  As can be seen in ETP’s own document (see map below), their route permit application submitted to North Dakota in December 2014, the original pipeline route passed upstream of Bismarck (92% white).  It was moved south to near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation after objections regarding the risk of a spill and contamination of Bismarck’s water supply.

The violation:  This is a textbook violation of this Executive Order.  It appears the community of Bismarck, with a greater ability to navigate in the world of white corporate law, used quiet and effective pressure against ETP.  Like a wolf picking out a weaker animal in the herd, ETP pivoted to Standing Rock, where it figured it could push its way through with a combination of pacifying lies (“we will re-route if necessary”) and corporate power (such as the ability to essentially call out the military to support them).

What should have happened:  ETP should have identified a route that did not place undo risk and burden on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  


This map, from page 22 of Energy Transfer Partner’s application for a route permit from North Dakota, shows the initial pipeline corridor north of Bismarck, as well as the lack of changes after they met with the tribe in September and October, 2014.

Tribal Consultation, National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as amended in 1992, Section 106 (36 CFR Part 800); and Executive Order 13175

This law requires any federal agency to consult with tribes when engaging in any action, including permitting an oil pipeline, that may affect sites of religious and cultural significance, even if they are off reservation land.  The Executive Order 13175 states that federal agencies “are charged with engaging in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications.”  That is, they must consult with tribes when considering any policy or action that impacts tribal communities, such as permitting a pipeline that threatens their water supply or allowing local law enforcement onto federal land.


SRST Chairman Dave Archambault, being arrested on August 12, 2016.  He resorted to demonstrating after ETP and the US Army Corp ignored legal requirements for consultation.

With DAPL, ETP avoided this requirement in their original pipeline route, dated May 29, 2014 on the map above, because the pipeline was not located near tribal lands.  After running into opposition from the citizens of Bismarck, they re-routed the pipeline, dated September 29, 2014 on the map above.  When they met with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) the following day, they were clearly set on their new route, even though they were engaging in tribal consultation for the first time.  This is called “pre-decisional”; they had made up their mind before they met with the tribe.  At that meeting, they promised to re-route to avoid sites of cultural importance.  ETP’s route permit application acknowledges they met with the tribe again in October.  On page 39 of that report, ETP states, “Discussion of cooperative cultural resource investigations between Dakota Access archaeological field crews and THPO [Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, as defined by Section 106] sanctioned tribal monitors was initiated.” This sounds good, but it’s clear that: 1) the consultation did not continue after this; and 2) the route did not change as a result of these meetings, despite very clear concerns expressed by the tribe (compare the black route of September 29, 2014 with the nearly identical red route of November 6, 2014).  Thus, the timeline is:

  • May 29, 2014:  pipeline route is north of Bismarck
  • Sept 29, 2014:  pipeline route is moved to near Standing Rock
  • Sept 30, 2014:  ETP begins consultation with SRST (Army Corp not present); tribe voices concerns and opposes current route
  • Oct, 2014:  ETP and SRST meet again to discuss historical sites
  • Nov 6, 2014:  pipeline route is finalized, with no change from the Standing Rock area.

Likewise, the Army Corp failed to consult with the tribe until well after the pipeline route was finalized.  At President Obama’s request, the Army Corp is now consulting with the tribe, but at the eleventh hour after the pipeline is 99% completed.

The violations: ETP ignored the requirement for tribal consultation by 1) not meeting with the tribe until September 30, 2014, after a new route had been selected; and 2) not changing the route at all after the tribe described obvious concerns regarding religious and cultural sites as defined by NHPA.  The US Army Corp violated this law by not consulting with the tribe until ordered to do so by President Obama in September, 2016, over two years after they should have done so.

ETP also violated Section 106 on September 3 when they deliberately destroyed sacred sites before a judge could issue an injunction to save them.  See text box below: 

On August 29, 2016, a local landowner just north of the reservation permitted Tim Mentz, a professional archaeologist who previously worked for the State Historic Preservation Office, to examine the pipeline corridor route immediately west of Highway 1806.  Mentz documented “82 significant historical markings, of which 27 were grave locations.”  On September 2, the tribe filed in federal court for an immediate injunction to halt construction and released the precise locations of the historical sites (which tribes generally don’t do unless it’s absolutely necessary).  SRST Chairman Dave Archambault described what happened next: “The corridor work was many miles away from the historic site that was identified.  The next day after we filed, Saturday, September 3, 2016, the construction workers and equipment leap-frogged ahead and bulldozed the site.” 

The US Army Corp also violated (and continues to violate) Executive Order 13175 through their support of police actions at the site.  While the county and state militias have no legal obligation to consult with the tribe, all federal agencies must engage in “government-to-government” consultation for any action that affects a tribe.  In this case, that would include:

  • US Army Corp for allowing state and local law enforcement to operate on Army Corp property; in this case, the following locations are on their property (see map below):
    • Backwater Bridge where the crowd was sprayed with a water cannon in 25F weather, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets, and where Sophia Wilansky was severely injured by a concussion grenade; 
    • The law enforcement blockade/wall across Highway 1806; 
    • Turtle Hill, which local law enforcement have turned into a military outpost, and where local police maced and pepper-sprayed people standing in water; and where police deliberately broke up Indian canoes; 
  • US Dept of Defense for the provision of federal military surplus equipment (weapons, Humvees, etc.) used against a tribe; 
  • Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) for their no-fly zone to prevent drones (while law enforcement fly constantly);
  • US Border Patrol for their provision of troops to assist the local law enforcement. 

Any action within the orange boundary (Army Corp lands) that affects the tribe requires “government-to-government” consultation.

All of these are federal actions affecting tribal lands and a tribal community and thus require tribal consultation (which, of course, seems crazy because the SRST would never agree to any of these things).  

In the video above, looking across the water to Turtle Hill, a tribe member explains to a journalist that local law enforcement should not be on federal land.  At the end of the video, the journalist is shot by a rubber bullet, despite posing no threat to law enforcement and actually being rather far from them.


These riot police, spraying mace, are standing on federal property at Turtle Hill, engaged in an activity that affects the tribe, and thus are in clear violation of Executive Order 13175.

What should have happened:  ETP should have engaged the SRST in summer 2014, when they were pivoting away from Bismarck; and, after finally meeting with the tribe in September and October 2014, should have fulfilled their promise of re-routing for cultural concerns, but instead completely ignored the information they received from the SRST. Likewise, the Army Corp should have engaged in this consultation before issuing their permit in July 2016 (which was later revoked by Obama in September 2016).  

ETP should not have deliberately destroyed sacred sites. 

Regarding the police actions, without tribal consultation, the US Army Corp should not allow state and local law enforcement on their property, the US Department of Defense should not allow their equipment to be used against a tribe, the FAA should not issue a no-fly zone to prevent news coverage, and the US Border Patrol should not send personnel.  

This is likely a partial list of the violations of law that have occurred.  These laws and procedures exist for a reason.  Had ETP and the Army Corp followed these laws, this conflict could have been avoided.

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Red pilgrimage: right-wing counties send their cops to Standing Rock

The conflict at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation can be seen thru many lenses:  white vs red, colonial vs indigenous, rich vs poor, violence vs non-violence, corporations vs grassroots, old energy vs new energy, male vs female, material vs spiritual.  The list could go on, and there’s much to say about each one.  When looking at the militarized police forces and where they come from, another dichotomy is evident:  red vs blue.

war-zone-11Indigenous people and environmental activists from around the nation (and world) are not the only ones making the pilgrimage to Standing Rock.  Seventy different law enforcement agencies have responded:  43 county sheriff’s departments from seven different states, five state level agencies, and 22 municipal police forces (16 from North Dakota and six from Indiana).  Despite requirements for tribal consultation for any federal action that impacts a tribe, there is a sizable federal component to the militarization as well:  US Border Patrol personnel, a federal no-fly zone (using a post-911 anti-terrorism law) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a generous supply of US military surplus equipment to many of the local agencies.  Furthermore, much of the conflict has been on US Army Corp land with their full permission.  US military veterans, just now arriving to support the tribe, are on-line pointing out “up-armored Humvees” and other equipment they’d used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Private security guards complete the array which has unleashed a shocking show of force against unarmed demonstrators (called “water protectors” to emphasize the sovereignty of tribal lands).  Most of the time, the demonstrators were over a mile away from the pipeline construction site.  To date, military tactics have included:

  • extensive use of pepper spray, mace, and tear gas, sometimes at people standing in water, another time at a crowd trapped on a bridge;
  • extensive use of a water cannon against people in 25F weather (and later lying about it, saying they were putting out fires, until video coverage proved otherwise);
  • extensive use of rubber bullets, deliberately aimed at the face and groin, causing many injuries;
  • deliberately throwing concussion grenades at people, in one case resulting in a severe injury;
  • laughing and joking at suffering people (documented several times on video);
  • blocking access for emergency vehicles, thus requiring long journeys to hospitals;
  • using attack dogs that bit several people, including women and children (on Sept 3);
  • deliberately destroying canoes on federal lands (at Turtle Hill);
  • keeping detained people, including elders and women, in dog kennels;
  • subjecting detained women to complete strip searches;
  • shooting down drones filming the attacks;
  • deliberately targeting people with cameras, telling them to stop filming;
  • using military equipment to scramble cell and internet connection to the outside world;
  • deliberately targeting medics who were clearly identified, while they assisted injured people; and
  • urinating and defecating on confiscated gear and belongings (at the Treaty Camp after its removal on Oct 27).

Focusing on the 40 county sheriff’s departments currently involved, they are decidedly from right-wing counties.  All but three of them went for Trump in the recent presidential election, with an average vote of 66% for Trump.  Of the 24 North Dakota counties participating, the average vote for Trump was 73%, a full 9% above the statewide tally, suggesting these troops are being sent from the reddest counties in a very red state.  Also striking is the number of counties from conservative white suburbs of large cities.  This includes several units from the Indiana side of Chicago and one sheriff’s department from a white suburb of New Orleans.  It appears they are using this conflict as an opportunity to test their new US military equipment.

The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, by contrast, is in Sioux County, where Trump received on only 22% of the vote.  This is typical of indigenous enclaves in the United States.  They are often blue dots in a sea of red.

war-zone-10There were three counties that originally sent detachments but have since withdrawn their forces due to public outcry.  They were:

  • Dane County, Wisconsin; 23% for Trump
  • Hennepin County, Minnesota; 29% for Trump
  • Gallitin County, Montana; 45% for Trump

That is to say, most of the blue counties that sent troops have withdrawn them.  If this trend holds, very few others will be leaving.

Considering the Third World poverty associated with Indian reservations, the conflict begins to take on the specter of a proxy war, where outside forces arrive like moths to a flame while impoverished minorities host the battle and suffer.

Here is the list of the participating agencies used in this analysis.

Previous posts about Standing Rock:


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Dakota Pipeline knew about Standing Rock concerns 2 1/2 years ago

Here is the audio recording of Energy Transfers Partner’s (ETP) meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) on September 30, 2014.

The recording is astounding for its replication of current arguments.  The SRST clearly states their primary concerns are historical and sacred sites, as well as water quality and the risk of spills.  This is exactly what they are saying today.  The meeting was a first step in a consultation process that never happened.

Two more issues come up early in the meeting:  1) The absence of the Army Corp at the meeting and SRST’s clear dissatisfaction with the Army Corp’s coordination with the tribe when granting permits; and 2) Dakota Access’s apparent strategy to avoid an Environmental Impact Statement by subdividing the pipeline into numerous mini-projects, none of which alone require extensive review.  In this meeting, SRST provides court precedents that consider this approach a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).


Two years after this meeting, the unaddressed issues led to the current conflict.

Since this 2014 meeting, ETP has made no reference to it and has implied that the SRST failed to discuss the pipeline with them.  It’s quite clear from this recording that SRST was very honest and forthright about their concerns (perhaps too much too early) and that ETP apparently decided it would be easier to ignore the tribe than to try to work with them.  There were clear opportunities for future communication, and clear warning signs of future conflict, and ETP ignored both.

This will no doubt become a textbook example violation of the federal mandate to consult with tribes and a worse-case scenario of what happens when you don’t.

Here are some choice quotes (with times in the recording):

28:05 – “For us to officially endorse or accept a proposal that would negatively impact our cultural sites, our prayer sites, our duties and responsibilities as stewards of the land, would be unacceptable… The risks are too great for our children.” – Waste’Win Young

44:10 – “We will re-rout as necessary for threatened and endangered species and cultural resources.” – Chuck Frey, Energy Transfer Partners

1:00:45 – “Do not underestimate the people of Standing Rock… we know what we have to keep for our children and grandchildren… Our water is our single last property that we have for our people and water is life. Mni wiconi. You as a human being cannot drink oil. We need the water to survive… We will do whatever we have to do to stop this pipeline… We know all the tricks of the wasichu language… I will never submit to any pipeline to come through my land.” – Councilwoman Phyllis Young

Rough guideline to the recording:
0:00-4:00 – introductions
4:00-18:00 – ETP presentation
18:00- – SRST officers (Waste’Win Young) raise legal and permit issues
20:00 – says comprehensive NEPA review cannot be avoided by segmenting the pipeline into numerous “small” projects.
21:00 – says Army Corp must rule on entire pipeline (Army Corp not present at the meeting).
23:00 – says SRST having difficult time with Army Corp when it comes to tribal consultation and permitting
27:00 – discusses Whitestone Massacre
28:05 – “For us to officially endorse or accept a proposal that would negatively impact our cultural sites, our prayer sites, our duties and responsibilities as stewards of the land, would be unacceptable… The risks are too great for our children.” – Waste’Win Young
29:00 – more questions from the SRST (Terry Clouthier)
32:00 – discussing absence of Army Corp at meeting
33:00 – discussing line can be expanded to 570 bpd with a “drag reducing agent”; current contracts are for 320 bpd.
36:00 – discussing the 40 permanent jobs to be created by the pipeline
37:50 – discussing routing options and the pre-existing Northern natural gas pipeline that follows a similar route (built in 1989)
38:30 – discussing tribal participation during cultural surveys and sensitive sites
39:30 – ETP asks for a map of sensitive sites; Clouthier says this information is not publicly available; will discuss privately as needed (Note that on Sept 3, 2016, ETP obtained lat-longs of sacred sites and deliberately destroyed them.)
41:00 – discussing eminent domain on private lands
42:00 – discussing potential to export this oil
44:00 – discussing re-routing options
44:10 – “We will re-rout as necessary for threatened and endangered species and cultural resources.” – ETP rep — seems to go on to imply they will get their information on sensitive sites from federal databases and not directly from the SRST; 45:00 SRST counters that only they have the information for some key cultural sites. ETP says they will take it into consideration.
46:50 – SRST clarifies that tribes had no right of consultation for the natural gas pipeline in 1989; that law came in 1992.
47:30 – SRST describe sacred sites in the vicinity of the pipeline and emphasize importance of future communication with SRST.
49:45 – Questions from councilmembers (mostly Councilwoman Phyllis Young)
52:00 – more emphasis on oral history and need to consult with SRST regarding cultural sites
53:00 – discussion of SRST Water Control Board and contamination fears of water supply
54:00 – SRST has already passed a resolution opposing pipelines
58:30 – discussion of flooding by Army Corp dam when they dammed the river and created Lake Oahe in 1960, in which families had to flee in the middle of winter
1:00:45 – “Do not underestimate the people of Standing Rock… and we know what we have to keep for our children and grandchildren… Our water is our single last property that we have for our people and water is life. Mni wiconi. You as a human being cannot drink oil. We need the water to survive… We will do whatever we have to do to stop this pipeline… We know all the tricks of the wasichu language… I will never submit to any pipeline to come through my land.” – Councilwoman Phyllis Young
1:01:30 – SRST notes that all Army Corp land is actually the tribe’s.
1:02:00 – Notes that Army Corp still owes SRST compensation for flooding caused by the dam.
1:03:30 – Notes that SRST sued the Keystone Pipeline a few years ago.
1:04:00 – Notes treaty history.
1:06:30 – Comment to run pipeline near Bismarck instead.
1:07:00 – SRST Chairman David Archambault says the proposed pipeline route is “too close” and reiterates concerns regarding sacred sites and threat to water quality.
1:08:00 – Meeting adjourns.

Previous posts about Standing Rock:


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Standing Rock map tells a story

war-zone-map-zoomI created the above map based on a variety of sources– maps released by the US Army Corp, the Environmental Assessment by Energy Transfer Partners, Google Earth, drone footage by Digital Smoke Signals, and information at Oceti Sakowin Camp and Sacred Stones Camp.  All locations are approximate.

Backwater Bridge (where Sophia Wilansky was severely injured), the military wall across Highway 1806, Turtle Hill (which has been taken over by law enforcement and barricaded with razor wire), and the waterside locations from which state and local law enforcement sprayed mace and pepper spray on non-violent people standing in the water are all clearly on federal land.  Thus, the militarized state and local militias, as well as oil company private security forces (aka mercenaries) have clearly been using their brutal tactics with Army Corp permission on federal land.

This is critically important.  In general, states and counties have no formal relationships with tribes (unless otherwise arranged).  The federal government, however, has a legal nation-to-nation relationship with tribes.  They cannot conduct or allow any action on federal land that affects tribes without formal tribal consultation.  And they cannot violate treaty obligations.

With the Army Corp now demanding that Oceti Sakowin Camp be cleared by December 5, and 600 federal military veterans  promising to self-deploy to support the tribe, a federal showdown now looms.


View from above Highway 1806 looking south at the military wall, the backwater bridge, and Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Here are some of my previous posts on Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline:

A future post will explore Bakken oil and spill risk.

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Time for pressure: What you can do for Standing Rock now

Shit is going down and now is the time for the general public to apply meaningful pressure.



Razor wire coated in ice from water cannons separates praying people from militarized police.

Sunday night (November 20), local law enforcement deliberately doused unarmed non-violent people with water cannons in 25F weather.  That calm Minnesota accent we heard over the police loud speaker in September, assuring protesters they would not be hurt (despite the riot gear),  is a thing of the past.  He’s been replaced by law enforcement that openly point and laugh at people in prayer.  Sunday night, in addition to the use of water in freezing temperatures, the state and county police shot non-violent protesters with plastic bullets, aiming for their heads and groins.  They extensively tear-gassed a crowd on a bridge that was unable to flee, blocked in front by law enforcement, on the sides by the bridge edges, and behind by the crowd.  Their behavior is increasingly reckless and even some in mainstream media have said it’s amazing they haven’t killed anyone.

There were hundreds of minor injuries associated with trampling, hypothermia, and blunt-force trauma.  There were at least two major injuries.  An elder suffered a heart attack, but was revived by CPR, and a 21-year-old white woman, Sophia Wilanksy, an activist ally from New York City, was hit by a concussion grenade that exploded on her arm while bringing water to people.  She also suffered at least eight shots with plastic bullets.  While Bismarck was only 43 miles, the tribal ambulance was forced to take a circuitous route, delaying medical care by hours.  She has had one surgery so far and more are planned.  She may lose her arm.  Her father is an attorney.  He gave a moving nine-minute interview Tuesday from a hospital.

He has also contacted the FBI and US Department of Justice (DOJ).  Tuesday, for the first time, there were DOJ boots on the ground at Oceti Sakowin Camp investigating civil rights abuses by local law enforcement.  That’s the power of a white injury and a white advocate—  a topic for another blog post.

The water protectors (as they prefer to be called, highlighting their sovereign right to clean water) had blockaded the highway a month ago, but removed their blockade a day or two later after they were informed they would be liable for blocked emergency vehicles. Now, Morton County and the State of North Dakota have decided to re-build the roadblock with the same burned out vehicles, even though there is no longer pipeline construction near it.  Sunday night’s conflict began when tribal members started to dismantle the roadblock, towing away one of the burned out vehicles (in the second video above).

Tuesday, local law enforcement began building an enormous concrete wall across the road, stretching hundreds of yards in each direction.  It recalls the Berlin Wall, the West Bank Wall, or an international border with tight security.

Another element of this story has been the poor coverage by mainstream media.  During the events of Sunday night, the only footage was via Facebook Live.  With no boots on the ground, mainstream media, a day later, regurgitated statements from the Morton County Sheriffs:  there was a riot, the protesters lit fires, we were using water to put out the fires.  The videos from the night reveal these explanations to be absurd.  Water cannons were clearly aimed to spray people.  Fires are few in the video– mostly showing campfires with freezing people warming themselves.  This poor coverage has arguably led to increased boldness by law enforcement, who seem increasingly willing to inflict injuries in the name of “control”.

bakken-prediction-graph-2INVESTORS PULLING OUT 

All this comes at a time when oil production in the Bakken region is falling dramatically due to the collapse in world oil prices.  By the end of the year, all Bakken production will fit comfortably inside existing pipelines, making the massive Dakota Access Pipeline unnecessary.

Combine this shaky economic basis with the injury of a white woman, involvement by the US DOJ, and the increasing militarization of the area by local law enforcement, and investors are nervous; some are pulling out.


Now is the time for the public to apply meaningful pressure on these investors.

Here are the banks to protest against or to boycott.  It’s quite a list.  Among the largest banks familiar to Americans are:



As for making phone calls, those directly responsible for the police brutality are the Morton County Sheriff’s Department 701-667-3330 and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple 701-328-2200 (here is his own statement supporting the pipeline).  You can also petition the US DOJ to investigate civil rights violations.  A screenshot of the Morton County Sherriff Facebook page below includes their public explanation of Sophia Wilansky’s injuries and their phone number (bottom right of the picture).



As for the White House, President Obama and the federal government have a limited role in this pipeline. They cannot order it halted any more than they can order any business to close.  They only have control over one permit only– to drill under the river, which requires passing through US Army Corp property.  The US Army Corp originally granted this permit with little tribal consultation.  Obama revoked the permit on September 9.  Since then, the Army Corp has announced they are doing more extensive tribal consultation.  A President Trump could grant this permit the day he takes office.  So the Army Corp permit is not something to rely on.  Instead, ask the Army Corp to require a Environmental Impact Statement, which a project of this size certainly warrants.  This is essentially a giant permit process that takes months and requires extensive public comment.  This process would be somewhat shielded from Trump, at least for a few months, and would give the tribe added legal leverage to file suit.

Bernie Sanders has suggested that Obama can declare the federal Army Corp lands where the pipeline is a national monument, thus blocking the pipeline.  This may be possible (I’m not sure), but it would be a rather radical move and highly unlikely.

One more thing Obama can do is get DOJ to investigate civil rights abuses by the local law enforcement.  Based on news today, thanks to the influence of Sophia Wilansky’s farther, this is finally happening.  But this does nothing to stop the actual pipeline, other than make investors more nervous about the whole thing.


As for donations, I was advised at a local teach-in that Oceti Sakowin Camp needs more winter gear– clothes, gloves, hats, boots, etc.  To donate funds, they recommend using their PayPal account.  A list of current supplies needed can be found here.


Also on November 20, an apparent arson fire broke out upwind of the Rosebud and Sacred Stone Camps.  Water protectors rushed to put it out.


Here are some other of my posts, which focus more on economics, history, and current status of the conflict on the ground:

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The Dakota Access Pipeline doesn’t make economic sense anymore

With the decline in worldwide oil prices, production in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields has declined so much that, by the end of this year, the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline will be completely unnecessary from an economic point of view.

In addition to maintaining this blog, I also work for the State of California’s oil spill response agency.  I serve as a tribal liaison, incident responder, and economist to calculate damages from spills.  I have a Ph.D. in resource economics.  And I’m good with Excel.

bakken-well-lifeSo here’s the deal.  Bakken oil wells are extremely short-lived.  Over the life of a well, they produce 46% of their output in the first year, and 2/3rds of their production by the end of their second year.  By the time they are five years old, their production is only 10% of what it once was.  Their production “decline curves” are very predictable.  With wells that die so fast, the only way to maintain production is to keep drilling more wells.  And that’s what they’ve done.  North Dakota is now pock-marked with over 10,000 oil wells, most drilled between 2013 and early 2015.


The decline in new wells has mirrored the decline in the price of oil.

Since then, the price of oil has collapsed from $104 per barrel (for West Texas Intermediate) in July 2014 to $30 per barrel in February 2016.  As I write, it sits at $46.  The break even point to make it worth it to drill a new well in the Bakken oil fields varies from $45 to $65 per barrel.  Below that, it’s not worth it to get the oil out of the ground.  So people have stopped drilling new wells.

The original impetus for the Dakota Access Pipeline was to move oil from North Dakota to Illinois, where it could be shipped further to refineries and markets on the Gulf Coast and East Coast.  Without it, industry argued, the oil is either stuck in North Dakota, or has to be moved by train, which is twice as expensive.  Also, fracking in North Dakota and West Texas have so over-produced oil that they have crashed the world price.  We have no coordinated national policy– it’s a free market free-for-all, so over-production happens. Moving oil by rail was attractive recently because: 1) it was the only option since there were hardly any pipelines connected to North Dakota; and 2) it’s faster and more flexible than pipeline, so sellers could make up the higher cost by finding the best market to ship to.


A typical Bakken oil well drill pad in North Dakota.

Neither one of these things are true anymore. Pipeline capacity has increased and, more importantly, Bakken oil production has decreased so that, by the end of 2016, all Bakken production will fit comfortably inside the current pipelines (and a couple small refineries).

Here’s the math.  First, the “take-away” capacity of pipelines and refineries in North Dakota:

  • Pipelines to Wyoming (Butte, Butte Expansion, Kinder-Morgan Double H) can take 368,000 barrels per day (bpd). From there it is shipped by rail to California or by pipeline to places like Cushing, Oklahoma (the “Grand Central Station” of oil in the US).
  • Pipeline to Minnesota (Enbridge Mainline North Dakota) can take 214,000 bpd.  From there it goes to Superior, Wisconsin, another oil transport hub.
  • Pipelines to Canada (Enbridge Bakken Expansion and Plains Bakken North) can take 185,000 bpd to Manitoba, from where it may go anywhere, even China.  (This has been the loophole that allows the US to export crude oil.)

All this totals to 767,000 bpd.  Add in two small refineries (Tesoro Mandan and Dakota Prairie), which can together handle another 88,000 bpd, and there is a total capacity to handle about 850,000 bpd of Bakken production.  Any production above and beyond this must be shipped by rail.

Just a few years ago, Bakken oil production had been predicted to rise to 1,500,000 bpd, or even higher.  There were plans for multiple new pipelines to handle this:  Dakota Access, Enbridge Sandpiper, Dakota Express, and an “on-ramp” to the Keystone Pipeline hauling tar sands down from Canada.  All of these have been cancelled, except for Dakota Access (which will have a large capacity of around 500,000 bpd).


This chart was created in 2013, showing the black line of predicted Bakken oil production and the gray area of future planned pipelines to carry that oil.  I’ve annotated this graph with actual production (in red, which goes out into the future as predicted production) and actual current pipeline and refinery capacity (the dotted white line).  The Dakota Access Pipeline will be unnecessary by the end of the year.

bakken-prediction-graph-2With knowledge of the number of wells and the age of the wells, Bakken production is easy to predict.  Given the short lives of these wells, and the lack of new wells, we can expect Bakken production to fall below 850,000 bpd by the end of 2016, and probably below 700 bpd by the end of 2017.  The latest available figures, from August, show that production was around 920,000 bpd and falling.  More importantly, the average age of a well was over two years old and only 51 new wells were completed that month.  Production is falling and will continue to fall as long as the price of gas stays low.  With production in West Texas exploding even more than in the Bakken (and without the transport headaches of North Dakota), we can expect the worldwide price to stay low.  Furthermore, worldwide demand continues to stay flat or slightly decline as people shift to alternative energy.

So why is Energy Transfer Partners spending nearly $4 billion building this pipeline? Primarily because they managed to secure long-term contracts from buyers and sellers to use the pipeline.  By delivering the oil to Illinois, it offers more market choices than the existing pipelines (although price differences between markets are small).  Ultimately, however, there are four things we can glean from this:

  1. There is no trade-off between the Dakota Access Pipeline and crude-by-rail.  Rail transport is unnecessary to move Bakken oil.
  2. The Dakota Access Pipeline does not generate more jobs or increased energy independence.  It merely steals market share from other pre-existing pipelines, takes their jobs and profits, and results in no more oil production or transport than if it did not exist.
  3. From an oil production standpoint, the Dakota Access Pipeline is merely a luxury, another transport option.  It is not necessary for capacity reasons.  It is merely a business venture for one particular set of investors to steal market share from other pipelines.
  4. Obviously, investors know all this stuff.  That’s why they pulled out of the other large pipeline proposals.  Even without the issues at Standing Rock, this pipeline is a risky investment.


Here are more recent posts on Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline:

Standing Rock map tells a story


Time for pressure: What you can do for Standing Rock now

Here are my previous posts, which focus more on the history and current status of the conflict on the ground:

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