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Native American Leaders: Keystone Spill Highlights the Need to Oppose Dakota Access Expansion, KXL

Heads of Four Tribal Nations Challenge ND Board not to Rubber Stamp Additional Oil Through DAPL at Nov. 13 Public Hearing

After news hit of last week’s Keystone pipeline oil spill — approximately 383,000 gallons of oil leaked in North Dakota — leaders from four tribes of the Great Sioux Nation said this is exactly why they oppose both Keystone XL (KXL) and a looming expansion of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).

“This is what pipelines do: they spill,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and public relations director for Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner. “This latest Keystone leak demonstrates why we stood against Dakota Access in the first place, why we’re doing so again now, and why we’re prepared to fight Keystone XL every step of the way.”

A hearing on the proposed expansion, which could greenlight a new pumping station, will take place before the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Wednesday, November 13 at 9 a.m. CST at Emmons County Courthouse in Linton, right across the river from Standing Rock. If the station is approved along with two others, the result could be a near doubling of DAPL’s oil flow, from about 600,000 barrels per day to around 1.1 million.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith and Councilman Charles Walker said they hope an outpouring of public opposition will improve the chances of the Commission listening to Standing Rock and other tribes.

“Allies are important in helping us relay our message,” said Faith. “Indigenous communities have always taught that we should care for the next seven generations. Dakota Access has already spilled 11 times, and now they want to double its capacity. That pipeline should be pulled out of the ground, and KXL should be stopped as well.”

Said Walker: “Those of you who have stood with Standing Rock in the past, we compel you right now to stand with us once again as we oppose the increase of the amount of barrels flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline. Bring your voice to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in the form of letters and attending the hearing.”

As it did during the original DAPL protests in 2016 and 2017, Standing Rock is now serving as a rallying point for a movement inclusive of several Native nations. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said that Indigenous objections to DAPL have never been adequately addressed. “We need to stand up and remind America that we’re still here,” said Frazier. “Our voices were never heard in the construction and the planning of the Dakota access pipeline, and in addition to that, we have a lot of questions that we would like for [the Commission] to answer.”

Said President Rodney M. Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, “We were disheartened to hear of the latest pipeline oil spill in North Dakota last week. It has been reported by several news agencies that 383,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the North Dakota wetlands. Not quite two years ago, there was a spill in Northeastern South Dakota that spilled about 407,000 gallons of oil into the farmland. One of the most troubling parts of these reports is that the spills are usually much worse than when first reported. These are only two incidences, but there have been many more. Pipelines are not safe, they are not secure, and they present a danger to our natural resources, our cultural resources, and our people. This is one of many reasons that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and others have tirelessly advocated for these pipelines to not be built through our treaty lands. We not only oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, but we still oppose the Dakota Access pipeline. We also oppose the proposed expansion of the capacity of DAPL because the potential for more substantial leaks is significantly increased. We stand united with our relatives at Standing Rock and throughout the Oceti Sakowin in opposition to this pipeline and its expansion. Our ancestors have done much to ensure that the present generation has these resources, so we must continue to protect and pray for Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth). The next seven generations are depending on us to make sure our cultural and natural resources are more than just a memory.”

According to research by the Lakota People's Law Project, a DAPL expansion could result in the release of approximately 97,886,550 more tons of CO2 each year — the equivalent of building 23 new coal-fired power plants. In addition, tribes remain concerned about DAPL’s inadequate leak detection system.

DAPL’s lack of reliability isn’t unique. Keystone’s has suffered multiple spills, and pipelines, in general, have an intensive history of leaks. Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bear Runner pointed out that Native communities could be unfairly impacted if pipelines keep being routed in close proximity to tribal lands, where they threaten tribal water supplies (even when that same danger has caused them to be routed away from water supplying non-Native populations).

“They keep bringing these projects to our homelands against our wishes,” Bear Runner said. “It’s an ongoing pattern of environmental racism. Still, we have a good hand to play. We have to hold the United States government accountable, and we have to assert our authority. We need to assert our sovereignty.”

“The era of fossil fuels must end,” said Phyllis Young, Standing Rock organizer for the Lakota People’s Law Project and a key figure in the anti-pipeline movement. “Solar and wind energy are cheaper and cleaner, so why is our government still subsidizing dirty oil and coal? Why are pipelines still being built or expanded without prior, informed consent from affected communities?”

The Lakota People’s Law Project has released a video with some of the above statements and is asking people who cannot attend the hearing to use its website to submit comments to the Commission:

The Lakota People’s Law Project is a subdivision of the Romero Institute, a 501(c)(3) law and policy center.


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