North Dakota, one of the least populated states in America, has experienced a population boom ever since large swathes of oil fields were discovered there, leading to oil companies’ interest in these reserves. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was constructed by the Texas based “Energy Transfer Partners.” It is expected to run from North Dakota to Illinois as a means of transporting large gallons of oil up to about 470,000 barrels per day.
The pipeline project has opened up thousands of temporary jobs. Yet, according to Natural Geographic, the native tribes are protesting against the DAPL and argue that the construction of the pipeline would mean cutting through sacred lands of Native American tribes. They also say there is a high risk of contamination of their land by oil.
In Dec. 2016, Obama had temporarily suspended the construction of the pipeline after the federal court’s decision to halt it. However, in Jan 2017, the Trump administration decided to give a green light to the Dakota access pipeline. The Dakota access pipeline was redirected from its original path towards Bismarck due to the dangers to the water supply for the white majority residents.
Wheaton’s Professor Bradford Bishop, whose research focuses on environmental politics said, “Poor communities are often the ones most affected by pollution and other types of toxicity from industries because rich communities can block these types of projects with the resources they have at hand.”
According to Professor Jenna Wechsler, who specializes in American judicial politics, “The Native Americans have an important clause they can use- the Right to consult, which states that government has to consult with native tribes before building anything and since DAPL workers destroyed a burial site without waiting for the court’s decision. [The private companies invested in constructing the pipeline] violated federal law.”
A visiting professor from Brown University, Professor Joshua Macleod who specializes in environmental justice emphasized on the need to consider the cost of the development of the Dakota access pipeline in issues of economic redevelopment. “We seem to always choose immediate economic benefit for some over securing long-term ecological well-being for future generations,” he said.
For Professor Macleod, a solution lies in compromise from both sides. “I hope that the government…would seek some sort of middle-ground between all of these things, where we can develop the economy and at the same time develop a more sustainable relation to the environment,” he said.