FORT YATES, N.D. – After years of fighting over the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Stand Rock Sioux Tribe feels vindicated now that a judge has ruled it be shut down pending an environmental review.
John Buckley was on the front lines of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which started almost four years ago.
Buckley lives on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation just south of Bismarck, North Dakota. Four years ago, he was fighting for his right to drink clean water.
“If that pipeline ever leaks, that’s going to cause a major problem,” he said.
The pipeline carries hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil from western North Dakota to an oil terminal in Illinois. It crosses the Missouri River just a few miles north of the Standing Rock reservation.
“Like the old ones say, Mini Wiconi, water is life. Without water, we can’t survive, as humans. So, it’s a way of life, it’s our life,” said Mike Faith, the tribal chairman of Standing Rock Sioux.
The tribe's biggest issue was the Army Corp of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners, the company that owns the pipeline, never completed an environmental impact statement.
“The judge I think made the right decision, as far as telling the court, get an environmental impact statement. The EA, the little blanket resolution that allowed the environmental assessment. That hurt a lot of cultural resources, it did danger to a lot of species, it’s a danger in our existence,” said Faith.
That disagreement sparked seven months of protests and drew people from all over the world. Thousands gathered and squared off with police. The clashes sometimes turned violent.
Eventually, law enforcement cleared the protesters and oil began flowing through the pipeline. But that didn’t mean the fight was over.
“Appeals, appeals, appeals. Standing Rock is here, we didn’t go away. We’re still here.”
Three years after the first barrels of North Dakota crude started moving through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered an environmental impact study needed to be completed. The judge ordered that the pipeline will be drained of oil by the beginning of August. Since that ruling, the US District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has granted an administrative stay on draining the pipeline while the appeal of the ruling plays out.
“The decision by Judge Boasberg last week, last Monday, took us just completely by surprise," said Ron Ness, the President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
Ness represents the oil industry in the state. He says there are huge economic impacts from shutting down the pipeline.
“For every dollar in North Dakota that we get less for a barrel of oil, that’s like $40 million a year to the state of North Dakota,” he said.
And he says shutting the pipeline down means more oil on trucks and trains.
“Prior to DAPL, we were putting almost 800,000 barrels of Bakken oil on rail cars, moving them to various markets. This pipeline not only offered a safety component, it took trucks off the road in counties across western North Dakota,” said Ness.
But for the people of Standing Rock, this fight has always been about respect and preserving the environment
“The federal government, the Army Corps of Engineers, did not do true government to government consultation. Economics vs. environmental, I would say that they have to be balanced,” said Faith.
Faith and Buckley say we need to think about more than just money.
"All that water comes down this way and all that water is going to be fouled and it's not going to be worth drinking," said Buckley.
“The almighty dollar sometimes, you’re not looking realistically into the future of future generations to come that can enjoy clean clear water," said Faith.