Project 4 (Scroll down to begin)

Mind The Gap

A Journey Through The Dakota Access Pipeline

Fibonacci Blue, Flickr
"In a case of dissension, never dare to judge till you've heard the other side." -Euripides


Synopsis Of The Pipeline

The $3.7 billion project, formally known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, would connect four states through an underground oil pipeline. Dakota Access, LLC, funds the project and the US Army Corps of Engineers gave the green light for construction of the pipeline.

Depending on who you ask, this pipeline will be an economic boom or an environmental disaster. Conflicts surrounding the pipeline are not only in regards to politics or legal issues. The central reason behind protests at Standing Rock is in regards to protection of land, water, and religious grounds.

Below is visual aid to help understand the key take aways of the Dakota Access Pipeline issue.

Figure 1: Visual Design Inspired By WeLoveSoLo

How Geography Is Playing A Role

The 1,172-mile pipeline would begin in the Bakken Formation, an oil-rich deposit where Montana and North Dakota meet Canada. The oil potential in the Bakken Formation is colossal.

Researchers have calculated there are 7.4 billion gallons of untapped oil. Once operational, the pipeline would shuttle 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To put that in perspective, that’s enough oil to make 374.3 million of gallons of gasoline per day (Energy Transfer Partners).

The oil from this region would then be transported to an oil tank farm not far from Patoka, Illinois. Once in Illinois, the oil will be shipped to nearby markets and refineries.

Understanding Figure 2

  • Grey Stars: Symbolize the home of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as well as the Bakken Formation.
  • Green Star: Symbolize Patoka, Illinois
  • Blue Circles: Symbolize the nine major intersections between the pipeline and rivers.
Figure 2 visualizes the data from Energy Transfer Partners and Environmental Concerns

The tribe argues that the intended pipeline would cut through a section of land that is the home of sacred sites and burial grounds. The Sioux also mention that Dakota Access first planned a route north of the reservation. But it was rejected because of the short distance between the pipeline and the state capital’s drinking-water wells.

Technically, the land in question isn’t actually a part of the reservation. But Sioux argue that over the past 150 years, their land has been stolen from them. Therefore, the construction work implemented to build the pipeline could potentially damage these sites.

Standing Rock Sioux Impact

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has sued the US Army Corps of Engineers citing the pipeline "threatens the Tribe's environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe." (District Court Pleadings).

Some notable supporters include Senator Bernie Sanders and actress Shailene Woodley who live-streamed her entire arrest while protesting at the reservation. Throughout the Summer and Autumn of 2016, protest turned violent when law-enforcement regularly used brutal tactics (tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets) to deter the protesters.

Expert Infantry, Flickr

The protests and the reaction to them have become a massive narrative. The construction of the pipeline has prompted debates about fracking, global warming, government’s historical mistreatment of Native Americans, and captivated numbers of allies, activists, and other tribes around the United States.

On the counter side, an advocacy group suggests that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe claim is misleading. Arguing that the pipeline "does not cross into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation." Another matter to bring up is all affected residents of North Dakota have given their consent to the construction of the pipeline (Energy Transfer Partners).

Environmental Impact

David Arcambault II, the chairman of Stand Rock Sioux says he doesn’t support the pipeline and that Americans should look to alternative and renewable sources of energy.

One of the primary concerns and threats to the Sioux Tribe is the catastrophic event of the pipe leaking. A leak in the pipeline could cause oil to spill straight into the tribe’s primary source of drinking water.

Sunoco Logistics, the future operator of the pipeline, has spilled crude oil from its onshore pipelines more often since 2010 than any other US pipeline operator, with at least 203 leaks disclosed to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Peg Hunter, Flickr

To bring this issue to a grand scale, a leak will not only affect the Sioux Tribe; but can potentially affect the 15 million people that rely on the Missouri River for drinking water. To argue that a leak will affect 15 million is abstract. However, if you go back to Figure 2, you will see that there are 9 major intersections between the river and pipe.

Furthermore, protests have also brought up that there is no plan for a clean up. As of now, it is unclear what will happen in the event of the leak.

In the event of a spill in Iowa, Dakota Access, LLC, only has to set aside $250,000 in a reserved fund. Instead, Dakota Access, LLC should be required to set aside at least $1 billion, indexed to inflation, which would match Alaska's precautions of protection. Essentially, Iowa is risking a lot for little reward.

Economic Impact

Protesters for the pipeline argue that construction will allow up to 12,000 temporary jobs. Energy Transfer Partners also claim “the pipeline would bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments.” In addition to jobs, the pipeline will significantly decrease the United State’s dependence on foreign oil.

Additionally, the pipeline would free up existing railways. Allowing for faster transportation of other resources. Advocates for the pipeline mention the 2013 disaster in Quebec, Canada where a train carrying crude oil derailed and destroyed downtown Lac-Megnatic."

Warning: the following video is graphic and some may find it disturbing.

Get Involved

Opponents of the pipeline and allies of the Standing Rock Sioux took to social media with the hashtag #NODAPL in support of the native tribe. A Facebook post in mid-October 2016 urged users to publicly “check-in” at the Standing Rock Reservation and ask friends and family to follow suit. The post explained that it would help deter the efforts of law enforcement personnel using social media to locate pipeline protesters.

To educate yourself further, research the questions below.

  1. How will residents know of a leak?
  2. Why has Dakota Access, LCC asked for a permanent easement of farmland when oil rights can be obtained only for 25 years at a time?
  3. Who are the majority shareholders of Dakota Access?


It’s important to take away that these protests are a reflection of contemporary time. The issues presented in this article reflect the torn views of a nation. The pipeline would certainly boost the U.S. economy but to what extent are we willing to go?

Chairman of the Sioux, Dave Archambault II is not willing to back down, saying, "we're going to continue to as long as it takes to try and have this nation recognize the injustices that are being implemented on our nation."




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