UMC Supported Pipeline Protest

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In 2012, the United Methodist Council of Bishops passed a resolution called the Doctrine of Discovery, opposing the seizing of native lands and abuses of human rights of indigenous peoples, resolving to work toward eliminating the subjugation of indigenous peoples of property and land.

by Laura Hunt

The United Methodist Church supported the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its unsuccessful lawsuit protesting construction of the Dakota Access Crude-Oil Pipeline. The tribe claims the pipeline runs through its ancestral lands under protection by federal law.

Construction for the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline began in May 2016 despite Lakota legal and regulatory objections. In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They also filed an intervention at the United Nations, in coordination with the International Indian Treaty Council.

The 30-inch diameter pipeline will snake through North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois where it will link to a pipeline in Nederland, Texas providing better access to US oil in the Midwest and East Coast markets. More than 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil will pass through the pipeline daily, along with 245,000 metric tons of carbon.

The company building the Dakota Access pipeline across four states and 1,170 miles says it will transport oil safely and reliably. But opponents such as EarthJustice, representing the Sioux Tribe in court, say there are two broad issues leading the Tribe to bring forth the lawsuit. First, the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, just a half a mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation boundary, where a potential spill would be economically catastrophic. Second, the pipeline would pass through areas of great cultural significance, such as sacred sites and burial grounds.

Dave Archambault, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, explained to the New York Times that multiple federal agencies supported more protection of the tribe’s cultural heritage, but believes they turned a blind eye to their rights. “The first draft of the company’s assessment of the planned route through our treaty and ancestral lands did not even mention our tribe.”

The protests have drawn thousands to North and South Dakota. The fight is now stalled after a federal judge in Washington ruled against blocking construction of a section of the pipeline near the tribe’s land on Friday, September 9th.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it reached out extensively to tribes before giving approval for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross the Missouri River and other bodies of water. The Standing Rock Sioux say they were not properly consulted, and that the Corps canceled a meeting to visit the pipeline’s proposed crossing across Lake Oahe.

“The Dakota Access pipeline was fast-tracked from Day 1 using the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental reviews required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by treating the pipeline as a series of small construction sites. Without closer scrutiny, the proposal breezed through the four state processes,” said Archambault.

Jan Hasselman, a staff attorney for EarthJustice representing the tribe in litigation, said, “there have been shopping malls that have received more environmental review and Tribal consultation than this massive crude oil pipeline.”

This April, TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline leaked, spewing nearly 17,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, the largest spill in state history. Officials struggled to find the cause, despite similar safety assurances. TransCanada was set to build the Keystone XL pipeline until President Obama vetoed its construction in November 2015 after a long grassroots battle against it by Lakota, ranchers, Indigenous activists, environmentalists and others.