Online Magazine Feature

Making Environmental Racism Great Again

“We can live without oil, we can’t live without water.”

Troy Heinert, American Senator, Rosebud Sioux


“I’ve lived here all my life and this ground is pretty much as God, or whoever, made it, and I just want it to stay that way.”

Bret Clanton, Rancher, White


“I certainly don’t think it [the XL pipeline] is going to make any great economic impact on South Dakota or on the native tribes that share our borders,”

Steve Emery, Secretary for Tribal Relations, Rosebud Sioux


“I don’t believe in being bullied, and I won’t be bullied.”

John Harter, Rancher, White


It is increasingly rare to find complex issues that unite Americans

This is especially true when the united Americans come from vastly different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. The comments featured above are all concerned Americans, taking the same side on an issue that could potentially change a shared landscape forever.


Even more remarkable, these comments were made four months after Trump took office. Americans have been the most polarized and divided politically than we have in our short, recent history, since Trump has become our president.


Regardless of how he was elected, he is making decisions on our, the American Peoples’, behalf. We should pay close attention to his decisions, and not get caught up in the scandal of the week, his actions will certainly outlive his presidency.


Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil


Proponents of pipelines often claim that they are the safest way to transport oil  , this is because transporting oil in trucks has a high accident and spill rate, and transporting oil with locomotives poses an enormous explosive threat.


Though pipelines are technically the safest mode of oil transportation, they still rank second in the amount of oil spilled, outranked by trucks. Pipelines do however pose the greatest environmental threat, with effects far outlasting remediation and clean-up efforts.


Pipelines that are built underground, and underwater, are at great risk of contaminating the entire local and/or water table and all other sources of groundwater. Ground water is contained underground in large pools called aquifers, the effects that crude oil can reap on an aquifer is horrendous, and could render it toxic, poisonous, and lifeless.


There was a study by the US Geological Survey done by the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program that focuses on a crude oil spill caused by a ruptured pipeline that occurred in 1979, specifically the remediation and clean-up efforts, and how the surrounding land has been affected over thirty years.


The study found that some “natural microbial activity had been degrading…the oil contaminants,.. the crude oil trapped in the aquifer provided a continues source of… contamination to the groundwater…” They admitted that “remediation of crude oil from the aquifer is difficult,” they came to these conclusions in 1998, after the contamination within the aquifer had persisted.


Crude oil is essentially a mixture of hydrocarbons, in addition to these, crude oil also contains naturally occurring radioactive materials and trace metals,  the majority of which are toxic and carcinogenic. Needless to say, toxic metals, carcinogens, and radioactive materials that are found in fossil fuels should not put natural aquifers at risk.


Making Environmental Racism Great Again


Let’s go back to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, where for weeks, hundreds, and then thousands, camped at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers, in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, and many other tribes whose very livelihood was at risk.


The pipeline was slated to be 1,200 miles long, carrying oil from North Dakota, through the Dakotas and Iowa to connect with a pipeline in Illinois. It would cost $3.8b and carry half a million barrels of oil a day. It would run along the borders of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and cross under Lake Oahe, a reservoir for the Missouri River, and a small part of a much larger aquifer.


The aquifer that is under constant risk of contamination is called the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow water table that engulfs the entire Great Plains region of the US. States that draw water from the Ogallala aquifer include the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, it is one of the largest aquifers in the world.


Trump is miraculously elected under unique circumstances, nonetheless he gets right to work, signing several executive orders and actions daily. It took him four days in office, to issue an executive order  advancing the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.


This executive action also slipped in some other legislation that wasn’t so widely publicized, he declared that pipelines constructed in the US should be constructed using only US materials, while also shortening the environmental review process.


The right to protest? Don’t think so


Far before the pipeline began construction, the companies behind the operation, Energy Transfer Partners and TransCanada, encountered resistance along every stretch of the pipeline. Americans of all kinds were not pleased that they were willing to use the law to take their land.


The fifth amendment to the US constitution contains a principle in it which allows the seizure of private land for “public use”, in exchange for “just compensation”, it is known as eminent domain. It was created to allow for better infrastructure in the west, to allow ranchers to drive their cattle, and to preserve historic sites.


Today, we see corporations and companies taking small farmers, ranchers, and all kinds of other folks to court in order to take their land from them and make more money for themselves.


Back at the camp, protestors were being arrested in August, seven hundred and fifty in fact, some being notable celebrities, and even Jill Stein the Green Party Presidential Candidate. Later in November Authorities use Tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to assault protestors.


These protestors were attacked in the night by Morton County PD and Sherriff’s Office, and later we find that the Border Patrol was also involved. But was it truly this simple?


“They were just hosing people down with their water cannon that continued for the entirety of the four hours I was out there watching,” said medic Noah Morris who witnessed the scene.


It was like “people walking through the dark of a winter North Dakota night, some of them so cold, and sprayed with water for so long, that their clothes were frozen to their body and crunching as they walked. So you could hear this crunching sound and this pop-pop-pop and people yelling to the police ‘We’ll pray for you! We love you!’” Linda Black Elk was a witness, and member of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council.


Over three hundred peaceful protestors were injured that night, seventeen were hospitalized, most common was hypothermia, and bone fractures suffered from rubber bullets.


It is not two months after that when Donald issued his executive order.


Over the course of two days in February, Trump, Energy Transfer Partners, TransCanada, the Morton County PD, US Border Patrol, and as we now know, TigerSwan, cleared out the camp of protestors using military-style sweeps and counterinsurgency tactics.


When Public becomes Private


When allies arrived to help support the water protectors at Standing Rock, they were met with heavily armed, heavily militarized police force that included local and out of state police and  sheriff’s deputies, National Guard troops, and Bureau of Indian Affairs police.


These so called “security” forces used rubber bullets, bean bag pellets, water cannons, and LRAD sound devices. Democracy Now captured footage on Labor Day weekend in 2016, that showed these pipeline security guards attacking peaceful protestors.


After the public opinion began to sway heavily in favor of these water protectors, Energy Transfer Partners secretly turned to TigerSwan, a private security firm, to solve their problems.


TigerSwan made its name in the middle east, working as private contractors for the US Government, as well as protection of private oil interests and operations, their field of specialty was counterinsurgency.


While working in North Dakota for Energy Transfer Partners, TigerSwan had never operated in the state with a license. They claimed to be performing “management and IT consulting for their client, and doing no security work.”


Initially, TigerSwan met with the local authorities and “agreed to the sharing of information.” Very shortly afterward, TigerSwan had placed a liaison inside of the law enforcement “joint operation command” camp.


TigerSwan performed extremely invasive investigations into the protest camp, collecting myriads of unauthorized photography and video from the camp. They later used this collected evidence and aided the state prosecutors in building the cases against pipeline protestors.


TigerSwan would expand their surveillance as the unrest would grow, sharing their information on persons of interest with the FBI and other national agencies. TigerSwan would infiltrate the protest camp and collect information on protestors, drawing from their social media accounts to find any evidence they could.


An October third report from TigerSwan detailed how they would use the camp-dynamics to cause unrest; “Exploitation of ongoing native versus non-native rifts, and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements is critical in our effort to delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement.”

A year later, what have we become?


We have become apathetic, every day Trump says something new that affects our lives, daily, weekly, and forever. So much has happened concerning him and his presidency since these events, I fear that many of us have forgotten what happened at Standing Rock.


Trump’s effects on this country are not only destroying us from within, but it is tarnishing our world image. No world leader respects Trump, and he has no respect for anyone other than himself.


Trump has cost us millions and billions of dollars already, but he has specifically cost us $4.6b and around 40,000 jobs in the Tourism sector.  The correlation is uncanny, immediately once he took office the world stopped wanting to visit America.


Energy Transfer Partners is now pumping, and most likely leaking, oil through the new Dakota Access Pipeline which ended up running under Lake Oahe, but has created only about thirty permanent US jobs, and also exports Canadian oil which Trump claimed would never happen.


The cost to our economy is secondary, to the cost of our environment. These pipelines will spill and leak, it is guaranteed. Once the oil contaminates our water, it will take hundreds of years to return to potable, unless if some amazing new oil remediation technology comes out soon.


How can we move forward from this? It seems bleak, yes, but all we can do is hold our legislators accountable, and stand with our fellow Americans against tyranny and the corrupt politicians who have made the choice that they have made so many times before, opting for the private benefit over public good, against true American’s interests.

Sustainability must be the future, not wanton waste and death.