Whether or not the Dakota Access Pipeline is built, this movement is a victory
In his first few weeks in office Donald Trump has shown us that he intends to fulfill every single horrifying promise that he made on the campaign trail. During his first week in office, he signed an executive order to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both projects that have faced years of organized and vehement protest from indigenous communities and environmental activists across the country. From pipelines, to religious bans, to ICE raids, people of color and marginalized communities are under attack from Trump.
Since the initial executive order, drilling has begun on the disputed area under the Missouri River, just a mile away from the Standing Rock reservation.
The tribe has been pushing back on the project since 2015, and escalated their opposition in April of the following year when the Standing Rock youth started their Change.org petition to stop the pipeline. While people in the movement are now reeling at the news that their hard-won victory is being shattered by an oil rig, it’s important to acknowledge that regardless of whether the pipeline is built through the Missouri River, a campaign sparked by a group of Native American 13 and 15-year-olds sparked the biggest environmental movement our country has seen in years.
Since the launch of the No DAPL movement, dozens of other pipeline campaigns have taken off on Change.org, challenging oil companies that try to rush permitting processes, ignore environmental concerns and silence local communities in order to protect their profit margin. So far, Energy Transfer Partners has lost over $450 million due to construction delays, and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department has spent $22.3 million to police the site. Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, has already pulled its investment from the project after significant public pressure, and Wells Fargo and Citibank continue to lose customers, with the cities of Seattle and Davis committing to divest altogether from Wells Fargo.
Following their successes, water protectors from Texas, to New York, to Ohio are using online petitions paired with offline direct actions to curb the growth of the fossil fuel industry even as Trump – a friend of the oil industry and climate denier – and his like-minded cabinet take office. These activists are sending the message that the fossil fuel industry is dying slowly, and they will use every tool in their toolkit to help it get there – even if it takes 1 million tiny cuts.
In West Texas, communities of color are challenging a pipeline being built by the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). The Comanche Trail Pipeline and its sister project, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, will carry oil from Texas down to Mexico. Opponents are concerned that should the pipeline leak or break – which they so often do – it could pollute the biodiverse desert or Rio Grande River it runs through. Indigenous water protectors and allies have started the Two Rivers camp and begun organizing direct actions to stop construction. On January 12th, a woman locked herself to an excavator and remained there for about three hours, surrounded by fellow activists.
One of the fastest-growing movements is taking place in Florida. After finishing his run against Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Florida Congress, Tim Canova started a Change.org petition asking the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the Sabal Trail Pipeline, a 500-mile project that will run right by the Crystal River, a crucial sanctuary for endagnered manatees, and the Suwannee River, also home to several endangered species. Since launch, Canova’s petition has gathered over 90,000 signatures and the movement has continued to grow. In December, pipeline opponents delivered signatures to influencers in five cities throughout the state, and in January activists have launched several camps to observe and obstruct construction. Earlier this month, 8 people were arrested for chaining themselves to equipment and trespassing on a construction site. Now indigenous water protectors from Standing Rock are traveling out to set up camp on what many are calling the next Dakota Access Pipeline.
One of the major concerns voiced by opponents of the Sabal Trail project is centered on the fact that the pipeline is being built to carry fracked gas, for which the extraction process is incredibly damaging to the environment. Nathaniel McCarthy developed similar concerns about fracking when he learned that the Bureau of Land Management would be holding an auction to lease acres of Ohio’s pristine Wayne National Forest to oil companies. In response, he started a petition to stop the auction, which gathered over 100,000 supporters in two months. Now that the Bureau decided to go ahead with the auction in spite of his campaign, McCarthy is working with local groups to organize an action camp similar to those in North Dakota, Florida, and Texas.
Regardless of whether Energy Transfer Partners is successful in building the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River, there is no denying the success and legacy of the #NoDAPL movement. In ways that has never been true for the environmental movement, people fighting to stop resource extraction projects now have the attention of the nation, and a blueprint for centering indigenous leadership and impacted communities. The fossil fuel industry has been given notice that people across the country are prepared to make new oil projects as painful and costly as possible.
President Trump and his climate-denying cabinet pose an enormous threat to the strides our country has made towards a sustainable future on this planet, but the Dakota Access Pipeline has inspired a movement lead by people of color, youth, and women who are ready to fight back with every tool available to them.