The Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation have passed a resolution opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, the first reservation in Montana to do so.
The pipeline would jeopardize drinking water projects for the reservation, tribal officials told Indian Country Today Media Network.
On January 29 the Senate passed legislation that would force the $8 billion pipeline through, though President Barack Obama has promised to veto it when it reaches his desk on February 24. The Tribal Executive Board meeting on February 9 formalized the opposition by resolution, supporting an e-mail they had submitted earlier, on January 27, and prior to the congressional vote.
The Fort Peck vote in effect pits the tribes against Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, who voted in favor of the bill, a link that did not come without some mixed feelings.
“I’m a big fan of Senator Tester. He has done so much for us, and we’re on a first-name basis in talking with each other,” tribal Chairman A.T. Stafne told ICTMN. The chairman also noted that he is “a big fan of President Obama. I respect him very much.”
The pipeline would be located upstream from Fort Peck Dam, and should the pipeline ever be breached it could contaminate the entire Missouri River water supply, tribal councilmen told ICTMN. The intake for the Assiniboine/Sioux Water Project is on the reservation off the Missouri River. The Missouri River borders the reservation to the south near the central portion of the reservation.
“This project will provide water for at least 30,000 people,” said Bill Whitehead, a tribal member, former councilman and former state legislator who is now chairman of the Assiniboine/Sioux Water Project. “Through our treaty rights and water compacts it covers all of northeastern Montana, including the reservation and four counties.”
This new water supply system is upstream from Poplar, Montana, and will eventually provide water to every town in northeastern Montana from Glasgow to the North Dakota border. An oil spill could poison the water for thousands here as well as downstream in North Dakota, he said.
Whitehead noted that they also work with off-reservation people, non-Indians, through the Water Project. The tribes have rights to more than one million cubic feet of flowing water from the river.
“We’re very close to Fort Peck Dam, and that put the pipeline close to the spillway of the dam,” Stafne said. The original Keystone XL route ran right through the reservation, he said, but that was later changed to skirt it to the west.
“Three years ago we had floods, and Fort Peck Dam was about to overflow, and they had to open the spillway,” Stafne said. “It damaged the spillway, and even last year they were trying to repair it. Where they’re moving near that spillway is a dangerous spot.”
Three recent breaks of other pipelines in the area add to the tribes’ concern. Just recently the Poplar Pipeline near Glendive spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River and shut off drinking water for five days to citizens of Glendive. Whitehead noted that if the Keystone pipeline were to rupture, it would have 10 times the effect of the Glendive spill.
In July 2011 another oil pipeline break occurred near Lowell, Montana, also on the Yellowstone River. And in North Dakota, this past January, three million gallons of toxic brine water used for fracking spilled into the Missouri River, contaminating nearby creeks. This brine water is a byproduct of oil and gas production and was the worst spill of this type since fracking began in North Dakota. They mirror several spills from last year, as well.
“I’m not opposed to the oil going through,” Stafne said. “But it’s basically the route and the danger they’re placing our people in here in northeastern Montana, just to get away from the Indian reservation.”