Federal permit process for the Dakota Access Pipeline was illegal and flawed
ICT editorial team
Mike Faith, Jr.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
As Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, I worked for months on behalf of the tribe to communicate to federal regulators the extremely dangerous consequences of permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). A little more than a year ago, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it rubber-stamped Energy Transfer Partners’ plan to build the pipeline across Lake Oahe, just upstream of Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands on the Missouri River. An oil spill affecting Lake Oahe would pose an existential threat to our culture. It would fundamentally undermine our Treaty-protected rights to the integrity of our homelands and the waters that sustain us.
Since the DAPL permit was illegal and flawed, the court directed the Corps to reconsider its decision. This meant re-examining the impacts of DAPL on Standing Rock and our treaty rights. The review process ended August 31, with a decision that registered as a disappointment but not a surprise. Instead of taking our treaty rights seriously, the Corps simply re-affirmed its original DAPL permit decision.
Despite our good-faith efforts to cooperate as stakeholders in this process, the Corps merely issued a cynical and one-sided document completely disregarding our concerns. They took our hard work and threw it in the trash, almost as if they are refusing to hear our voices.
Among other concerns, we sought to highlight the very real risk of an oil spill. Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built DAPL, and Sunoco – an oil giant Energy Transfer Partners merged with – have a well-documented pattern of violations. Their abysmal safety record suggests DAPL operations will proceed with the same flagrant disregard for our safety and wellbeing. For example, there were more “hazardous liquid incidents” recorded for Sunoco than any other pipeline operator tracked by regulators – on average, they violated safety regulations once every 11 days from 2002 to 2017. Together those incidents released nearly 3 million gallons of crude oil into the environment, and occasionally this carelessness resulted in hazardous chemicals spilling into groundwater.
In 2016, the Obama administration halted the pipeline’s completion and pledged a full environmental analysis. Yet President Trump abandoned even this basic commitment within days of his inauguration, perpetuating this nation’s long pattern of broken promises. The pipeline was completed and oil started flowing in June of 2017. Within the first six months of operation, according to news reports, DAPL leaked at least five times.
Water protectors who came to our aid in the resistance against DAPL helped catalyze an historic level of Tribal unity. Thousands helped draw attention to the long history of injustices that have brought us to this moment in time, and indigenous people from around the globe who have faced their own histories of dispossession and disregard for treaty rights gathered with us to defend sacred sites and the water that sustains life. These strong and lasting connections strengthen our resolve and transcend the legal twists and turns of this battle. The Tribe will review the Corps’ Aug. 31 decision closely to determine how best to proceed, in close consultation with our membership, staff, and advisors.
Mike Faith, Jr., is Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.