A major ruling expected Friday from a federal judge could derail construction of a controversial oil pipeline in North Dakota.
But a local Native American tribe, which claims the Dakota Access Pipeline desecrates its sacred sites and could pollute a clean water source, plans to continue its large protest regardless of the judge’s decision, activists say.
U.S. Judge James Boasberg has said he’ll rule by Sept. 9 on a request from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe for an injunction that would stop construction on the pipeline while their lawsuit against the $3.8 billion project unfolds. The tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allegedly violating “multiple federal statutes,” including the National Historic Preservation Act, when it issued permits for the work in July.
The demonstrations on the Plains have multiplied in size in recent weeks. On weekdays, about 1,200-1,500 demonstrators inhabit a “peace camp” that’s the base for protesting the project, according to Doug CrowGhost, the Standing Rock Sioux’s director of water resources. That number swells to as many as 3,000 on weekends, he said.
“People are preparing for the long haul,” said CrowGhost. “Whatever the outcome is tomorrow, we’re still going to be here to protect the water, to protect the land and to protect the cultural resources.”
Supporting the camp at the cost of several thousand dollars a day, according to CrowGhost, requires siphoning from the tribe’s budget. However, due to donations of food, clothing and supplies from other tribes and nonprofits, CrowGhost said, the Standing Rock Sioux may be able to sustain the camp into the winter.
If Boasberg denies the injunction, construction may continue while the lawsuit gets resolved.
If completed, the 1,172-mile pipeline will carry about 500,000 barrels of crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
The company building it, Energy Transfer Partners, has said that security systems will ensure the safe transport of the oil, contrary to complaints that spills could taint the Missouri River when it crosses beneath it. They also claim that the pipeline is more environmentally friendly than the alternative of shipping the oil by truck or train. Company officials also tout the project as a way to reduce American reliance on foreign energy sources and to bolster the local jobs market. A company spokeswoman did not respond to Huffington Post requests for comment.
As the protesters have grown in number, they’ve increasingly come into conflict with law enforcement and pipeline workers.
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein was charged this week with criminal trespass and criminal mischief after allegedly spray-painting a bulldozer with the words “I approve this message.” Security guards used dogs and pepper spray to attack protesters who contested the bulldozing of a burial site on Sept. 3, Democracy Now reported. Dozens of other people have been arrested since August, including the tribe’s chairman, for charges like disorderly conduct and trespassing during other altercations.
In anticipation of the judge’s ruling, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Thursday activated the National Guard, ABC News reported.
“It’s crucial for people to get a thorough understanding of what we’re doing, but the story gets misconstrued,” said Ruth Hopkins, an activist and a columnist for Indian Country Today who supports the Native American protesters. “We’ve been very peaceful and prayerful, but there’s been kind of a propaganda effort by local media to paint protesters as violent.”
In Iowa, another front has opened up in opposition to the pipeline. There, opponents of the pipeline have criticized the use of eminent domain to pry land from reluctant property owners.
On Aug. 31, police arrested 30 activists who tried disrupting work in Boone, according to The Des Moines Register.
Iowa activists are also targeting the risk of environmental damage from the pipeline.
“Is it so much to ask that I should be able to drink the water out of my tap without worrying about oil leaking into it,” Taylor Brorby, an Iowa State University graduate student and one of the arrestees, said to HuffPost.