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Lakota against the pipeline: look into details

October 31, 2016/ 14:20

At least 117 people were arrested as a result of the police break-up of the activists’ camp set up in protest against the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline. Associated Press reported that about 200 policemen and soldiers broke up the camp set up on the developer’s plot, where about 250 people had gathered. Nobody was seriously injured during the break-up.

I am referring to the construction of a large interstate pipeline from the shale field Bakken that will stretch across the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, the USA. Its designed length is 1825 km, its capacity is 25 million tons per year, and the estimated cost is $3.7billion. The project began two years ago and this March it received the final approvals. However, protests of the local community have been going on in the area (see picture 1) for several month now.


To the South of the pipeline route there is an Indian reservation of Lakota tribe, covering 9.2 thousand square km, with the population of slightly over 10 thousand people. The first clash happened in the beginning of September when a group of Indians tried to stop the bulldozers from site clearing. The security came out to meet them with dogs (picture 2).

Pic.2. From: http://heavy.com.

The protesters behaved quite peacefully for a while (picture 3), they were joined by the Sioux tribe Indians and environmental activists. They think that the route section of just one kilometer disturbs the old burial and religious places. Besides, the protesters are concerned about possible water contamination in case of accidents in the places where the pipeline goes over the rivers.

Pic.3. From: http://heavy.com.

However, on 27 October the authorities lost patience and as a result, 200 policemen broke up the camp and made arrests (picture 4).

Pic.4. From: http://heavy.com.

This story is a good illustration of an engineering fault, which can lead to a big trouble. The point is the US legislation strictly regulates the protection of the environment and especially of the indigenous people’s interests. Before the beginning of design work they must have done Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), then published in all the concerned states. Public hearings were held and anybody could raise his or her objections. I am sure all this was done, because the construction was approved by ALL the owners of the used land.

 The same procedure has been in place for 25 years in Russia and I have had to participate in it many times. The benefit of the procedure is that it allows to reveal the dimension of possible disasters like the blowout of in the Gulf of Mexico and to provide protective measures in the project. However, it takes educated and interested citizens to make the procedure work efficiently. Here the public hearings were mostly attended by mass media reporters and seldom by ecology geeks. The later are the most unpleasant, because they do not understand ANY reasoning. The pigheads would patiently sit on a geyser and keep saying “don’t disturb the nature” till they get burns in the most sensitive areas.

In this case the project designer laid the pipeline outside the Indian reservation and was happy with it, though it was necessary to agree with the natives that in case of accidents there might be impact on their land. On the other hand, it’s not only the design company to be blamed for this. The customer is also saving money, and even more - time and is not always ready to go to the expense of social research.

Technically it is possible to solve the problem of the shrines preservation for $5-7 million by laying the controversial section 30-40 m below the river bed by means of horizontal drilling. The land surface would remain untouched, leakages to the river would be excluded. The project cost would rise for no more than 0.15%. However, they are pressed for time, the changes require additional approvals, and so the company decides to force its way using the police. The law is on its side, but I am afraid, this would cost it dear.

Another thing is curious. While approvals, meetings and arrests have been going on, the oil production at the field has been steeply declining (picture 5). For the 12 months it has reduced by 220 thousand barrels a day. A year ago the recovered reserves part was 42.5%, now it has grown to 55%. If this trend continues, in two years’ time there won’t be enough oil for the pipeline to operate at full capacity.


However, for the society of flourishing bureaucracy this is not a problem. The citizens are protesting, the police are arresting, the pipeline is being built, the newsmakers are reporting. Everyone is busy and the process is going on.

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