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Pipeline projects still attract wary Native American eyes

Four years after protests began at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), oil drilling and pipeline projects continue to threaten Native American communities and the environment.

DAPL is one of the most well-known, along with the Keystone Pipeline System.

DAPL’s underground oil pipeline is 1,172 miles long and begins in northwest North Dakota, winding through South Dakota and Iowa to its end in Patoka, Illinois.

The DAPL protests, which are widely known by the hashtag #NoDAPL, were grassroots movements that began in early 2016 at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Almost 500 protesters have been arrested since.

Oil has been flowing through DAPL since the summer of 2017.

Opposition to its continued construction and proposed expansion still attract considerable protest and public outcry.

In November 2019, Indigenous People and environmentalists attended a public meeting in North Dakota on proposed DAPL expansion that lasted more than 15 hours.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues to intervene in plans for the pipeline’s expansion and use near its lands and water sources.

The owners of DAPL want to double the volume; even though critics worry it will further increase the risk of leaks or spills.

The Chicago Tribune reports that each day an average of 560,000 barrels of oil flows through the pipeline. The proposed increase would be 1.1 million barrels a day.

Native American leaders and activists want more information on why the increased oil flow is needed. Oil companies say the project has economic benefits and is safe.

Stakeholders on both sides of the issue expect legal wrangling to continue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the Keystone Pipeline is located in both Canada and the U.S. It runs from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Texas and also to oil tank farms and a distribution center in Cushing, Oklahoma.

Its fourth phase is commonly known as Keystone XL (KXL) – which garnered fierce opposition from environmentalists and tribal members for its potential to wreak havoc on the environment.

In 2015, the original project was vetoed by President Barack Obama, but in 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order to not only allow for its completion, but also a long sought after cross-border permit.

While the KXL construction doesn’t currently go directly through Native American reservations, it has the potential to pollute water supplies, part of the reason for a slew of lawsuits against it.

Keystone owner TC Energy is applying for permits to tap the Cheyenne River, White River, and Bad River, all of which run through South Dakota.

Native Americans and Indigenous Canadians are opposed to KXL for other reasons as well, including possible damage to sacred sites and contamination of locally caught fish.

Florida, too

While those particular projects might seem a world away from Florida, there are also developments closer to home that tribes, environmentalists and activists are keeping a close eye on – particularly in or near the Everglades.

On Jan. 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would buy land to stop an Everglades oil drilling plan on 20,000 acres in western Broward County.

Environmentalists and others are asking the governor to stop another, likely bigger, drilling plan about 25 miles west of that site at the Big Cypress National Preserve on the northwest border of Everglades National Park.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel recently reported that the entity – Burnett Oil Co. – holds state and federal permits to look for oil on 110 square miles of the preserve using heavy trucks that vibrate metal plates against the ground.

It wasn’t immediately clear if DeSantis will act on the request.

In Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed a bill in September 2019 to permanently ban offshore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

It was a move Florida lawmakers pressed for to help the keep the state’s tourism industry and military installations healthy.

The Senate has a similar bill, but it’s not known what the Trump administration would support or sign into law.

More information on DAPL is at standingrock.org.

The National Resources Defense Council is involved in litigation concerning the Keystone Pipeline.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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