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The Dakota Access Pipeline Is a Step Closer to Pumping More Oil Through Tribal Lands

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In this May 9, 2015, file photo, workers unload pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline. Now, it’s operating, but developers want to push more oil through.
In this May 9, 2015, file photo, workers unload pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline. Now, it’s operating, but developers want to push more oil through.
Photo: AP

North Dakota approved the expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Wednesday. Yup, the same 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline that inspired a massive wave of indigenous protests at Standing Rock in 2016. Despite those protests, the pipeline went into operation in 2017 with the support of the Trump administration.

Energy Transfer, the pipeline developers, first proposed this expansion back in 2018. The company wants to move 1.1 million barrels of oil a day through the pipeline, nearly doubling the current maximum capacity of 600,000 barrels daily. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose historic lands and burial grounds the pipeline already runs through, was opposed then. And they’re opposed to the expansion proposal now.


After the state’s Public Service Commission published its approval of the expansion—which involves constructing a pump station outside the tiny city of Linton that will allow more oil to move through the pipe—the tribe put out this statement:

The PSC is required to consider what the doubling of the flow of oil in an existing pipeline would have on North Dakota family farms and ranches, and North Dakota citizens’ and safety. Unfortunately, today’s decision demonstrates little or no consideration of these impacts. Today, the PSC failed to do its job for the people of North Dakota.”


The tribe went on to note that it is examining legal options to respond to this decision. The tribe is still going through litigation to combat the original construction of the controversial project. Its demand remains clear: The pipeline must shut down. Concerns remain over the project’s potential risk for spill. The project suffered a minor spill in 2017 before it was even fully operational. Energy Transfer is adamant that the pipeline is safe, but pipeline spills aren’t a matter of if; they’re a matter of when.

The Keystone Pipeline—the sister pipe to the proposed Keystone XL—has seen two spills over just a few short years. And these weren’t minor spills, with one spewing more than 400,000-gallons of oil. The risk of a Dakota Access Pipeline spill wouldn’t just affect land (which would be bad enough). The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition stem from the risks it poses to water as well given that it passes under the Missouri River.

Yet Energy Transfer wants to keep oil and gas flowing despite these risks, trying to get the last few bucks out of the fossil fuel industry. The company’s CEO said earlier this month that he’s “scared to death” of a fracking ban, which has been proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders (who’s leading the primary season for the Democratic nomination) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He should be afraid. The public is waking up to how evil the fossil fuel industry is—and to how much the world needs to shift away from these dirty fuels if we’re going to effectively solve the climate crisis.

Pumping more oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline won’t help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. And ignoring the demands of sovereign tribal nations won’t help the U.S. reconcile with its racist, colonialist past. Yet here we are. South Dakota officials have already approved their portion of the expansion project, but approval is pending in Illinois and Iowa.