• 09.09.16

The North Dakota Pipeline Showdown Leads To Government Halting Construction

In a dramatic turn of events after a judge ruled to allow the pipeline today, the Justice Department responded to protesters.

The North Dakota Pipeline Showdown Leads To Government Halting Construction
[Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images]

For months, Native American tribes have camped along the Cannonball River at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to protest a pipeline being built to move more than a half-million gallons of crude oil everyday–crossing over land just north of the reservation.


In a lawsuit, the tribe argued that the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for the $3.8 billion pipeline without properly consulting the tribe, and that the pipeline would destroy cultural sites. If there’s a leak in the pipeline–something that has happened thousands of times over the last six years in other pipelines–it could also poison the tribe’s only water supply.

Today, a judge denied a preliminary injunction that would have stopped construction, saying that the tribe hasn’t shown it would suffer injury that an injunction could prevent. But right after the decision, the U.S. Justice Department immediately intervened, saying that it would stop construction in the area until it can reconsider whether permits violate federal laws.

Construction is already underway–last weekend, crews bulldozed through land that the tribe says contains sacred ceremonial sites. When protestors broke through the construction fence, security guards released guard dogs that bit at least six people, including a child. Others were sprayed with pepper spray.

The pipeline is the latest in a series of tragic stories for the tribe: in 1958, the government took away land to build a new dam, flooding former homes. In 1851 and 1868, the government signed treaties with the Sioux–and promptly broke both.

The pipeline, which will travel through four states, is 1,170 miles long–nearly as long as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But because it doesn’t cross international borders, it wasn’t subject to as much federal review. The permit was fast-tracked; by treating the entire pipeline as a series of small construction projects, the company behind it, Energy Transfer Partners, was able to avoid the reviews normally required by the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The tribe plans to keep peacefully fighting, and the longer lawsuit will continue; the move for a preliminary injunction was an attempt to halt construction before a final decision can be made.


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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.