Stay or go? Tribe gives conflicting messages to protest camp

Ray Franks, of New York, carries a case of water into a mess hall at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., on Dec. 6. An overnight storm brought several inches of snow, winds gusting to 50 mph and temperatures that felt as cold as 10 degrees below zero. 

Associated Press

The Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline which starts in North Dakota and will route to Illinois, has been marred by a steady stream of misinformation and rumor. As governor of North Dakota, I feel it is important to share the facts of how the route was permitted through our state, as well as our North Dakota law enforcement’s exemplary management of protesters who have made national headlines.

Recently, many around the world have come to know this project as simply “DAPL” and have used limited information shared through traditional and social media to form opinions about the pipeline, and North Dakota as a whole. Much of this information is neither accurate nor fair.

North Dakota’s connection to the pipeline began in 2014 when Energy Transfer Partners officially filed its application for corridor compatibility and route permit through our Public Service Commission. It is the job of our three-person elected PSC to handle all such matters according to state law. A 13-month review process included public input meetings which were held across the state. As a result of these meetings, the route was modified 140 times to ensure environmental safety, including a shift to follow an existing gas pipeline corridor so as not to create an entirely new pathway. The final route was legally approved and permitted by the state of North Dakota, the location for the crossing of the Missouri River was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the easement was forwarded to the assistant secretary of the Army for signature.

These are essential facts:

  • Not one person from the tribe attended any of the meetings and hearings publicly noticed by state regulators over the course of two years. The pipeline’s permitted route never crosses tribal land.
  • Those opponents who cite the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie to dispute who owns the lands conveniently ignore the later treaty of 1868.
  • Finally, with respect to the pipeline’s proximity to the Standing Rock Reservation’s water supply, its existing intake was already scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2016 and replaced by an intake in South Dakota, some 70 miles away.

All of these facts were validated by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. who ruled against a request for an injunction.

While the right to disagree with projects such as Dakota Access Pipeline absolutely exists and those who disagree are welcome to exercise their right to free speech to declare that, it should never be acceptable to ignore straightforward facts and trample on a legal process that was followed carefully. It is unacceptable that the facts of the permitting process were not only omitted in much of the discussion among those who disagreed with the pipeline, but were twisted in order to paint the state of North Dakota and federal government as reckless and racist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet, when news spread that the pipeline project was legally moving forward, various environmental groups began contacting Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault to express their desire to come to Cannonball, North Dakota, and begin a “Stop the Pipeline” movement. Apparently, the chairman saw no reason to discourage their plans.

This movement to protest the pipeline eventually grew into a collection of more than 5,000 people illegally camping on federal land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then decided to allow this unpermitted presence, a decision they would later regret.

Workers harassed

From there, what began as a peaceful protest turned into an almost daily harassment of pipeline workers and area residents. Roads were blocked, land leased by private individuals for ranching was trespassed on, property was damaged including several head of cattle and horses which were slaughtered in the field, and privately-owned construction equipment was vandalized. These acts were lawless and anything but peaceful.

In response to these acts, law enforcement became involved in a four-month-long ordeal trying to keep state and county highways open and protecting private property. They were not always successful. To date over 500 arrests have been made, most of them for trespassing on private property and unauthorized public spaces, but some arrests were also for violent, threatening and destructive behavior.

Who are these people who have come from all over the country to Cannonball, North Dakota?

Hundreds are peaceful protesters, drawn to the general cause of environmental protection by a flood of social media calling for their “help.” But many are actually professional agitators recruited by large environmental activist organizations to intimidate people to drop their support for the project. This subgroup has hurled rocks and debris at law enforcement, and harassed their families. What started out as a tribe’s objections to a pipeline siting grew into something far different.

The Washington Post published an excellent editorial pointing out that the protests became misdirected as they lost contact with the realities of an individual pipeline crossing. This particular pipe is state-of-the-art when it comes to safety. It will be buried 92 feet below the bottom of the Missouri River, it will be double the strength of pipe buried on land, and it will have sophisticated flow monitoring devices on both sides of the river with automatic shut-off valves.

To date, the 1,172-mile pipeline is virtually complete from North Dakota to Illinois, with the exception of this river crossing. When complete, it will deliver one-half of the petroleum production from the Bakken region to markets throughout the U.S. And, it will be much, much safer from an environmental standpoint than the alternative modes of truck or rail transportation. And, again, it does not cross reservation land.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Dec. 5, that, despite its own conclusions that this route achieves the least environmental impact, it will further delay the process by requiring additional study. This truly tramples on a legal and orderly process in favor of intimidation and mob rule. If we allow these tactics to succeed, we will only encourage those who have chosen illegal means over the rule of law to achieve their goals.

Saving cold protesters

What has ultimately happened here in our state is that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s voice has now become largely overshadowed. Environmental activist organizations who have never before shown much interest in our state used a massive social media machine to drive misinformation about the pipeline, the protests, and are accusing law enforcement and the National Guard of criminal mistreatment of protesters. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Now that winter, including several feet of snow and sub-freezing temperatures, has settled into our state, law enforcement and several neighboring communities have gone above and beyond to help rescue and shelter people who came unprepared to handle our weather. Public schools have been opened as shelters, and law enforcement has repeatedly given warnings to safely leave the camp ahead of major storm warnings.

We are proud of the restraint and professionalism of our law enforcement officers. Attacks on their conduct have been totally inaccurate, and I hope that time will help reveal the facts surrounding this ongoing situation, and that reason will prevail.

Editor's note: Republican Jack Dalrymple, was governor of North Dakota for the past six years. His last day in office was Dec. 14. North Dakota's new governor is Republican Doug Burgum.

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