By: Shareshten Senior and Rising McDowell
Yakama Nation To Temple Journey – Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe L. Goudy leads a Pacific Northwest tribal delegation to NoDAPL resistance camp near Cannon Ball-North Dakota

A look at modern oil extraction and the rapidly mounting evidence that we just don’t need it (or want it) anymore. Now can we just stop building pipelines through drinking water?

Have you ever been invaded in your home at gunpoint?

What about surveillance helicopters watching you 24/7?

When was the last time a construction crew plowed through your yard in the night, and then dug up your mother’s grave and lied about doing it?

Probably never.

But for the indigenous Lakota, the last time was today, and the next time will be tomorrow. If you were to drive down Highway 1806 towards the southern border of North Dakota, you might think there could be nothing of note on those grassy plains. Stick with it, though, and after so many nondescript hillsides you would stumble upon an active war zone. Picture it: unarmed Americans on neutral territory being maced, tased, and shot point-blank in the face with ‘non-lethal’ rounds; uncontrolled attack dogs biting pregnant women before turning on their own untrained handlers; militarized police targeting women with grenades, blinding one and blasting another’s arm away; a Native woman arrested without cause, strip searched and left naked overnight in jail.

This is the picture of modern oil extraction.

Taylor Energy 11 Year Spill Change.ORG

Still Focus Photography

Since early 2016, privately owned Energy Transfer Partners has been in the process of building a crude oil pipeline between the Bakken Shale and Pakota, Illinois. The 1,172-mile DAPL, or ‘Dakota Access Pipeline’, is set to cross 9 major waterways including North America’s longest river, the Missouri. The ramifications of DAPL should raise alarming concerns for the 17 million whose drinking and tap water are drawn from the Missouri downstream of the crossing. A spill would not only send crude oil contaminants flowing into their sinks and bathtubs, but also render non-potable our nation’s 4th largest reservoir and the Standing Rock Sioux’s sole source of drinking water, Lake Oahe. It could also ruin what little is left in the Ogallala aquifer, which spans 8 U.S. states and is one of the largest in the world.

Construction has already encroached on unceded Sioux Territory as per the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Sacred archeological sites containing ancient artifacts have been bulldozed and burial grounds desecrated. The Lakota people know very well where they buried their ancestors, yet ETP continues to deny the discovery of culturally significant artifacts. A letter from the Natural History Museum, signed by more than 1,500 archeologists, anthropologists and historians, has chastised Obama and various federal agencies for allowing construction without conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement as required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) [1]. DAPL was originally set to run through Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital city [2]. But when its predominantly white residents voiced health safety concerns, ETP simply rerouted the pipeline downstream, right through Indian Country. They couldn’t have made a more foolish mistake. Old Lakota prophecies told of a time when a black snake would come to ravage and destroy the land, but it would not prevail. The many Indian nations from across the Land would come together to defeat the snake. And so be it.

Since April, over 300 Indigenous Tribes and sovereign Indian nations have come to stake their flag along the iconic Oceti Sakowin camp entrance. Many of these nations have been bitter enemies for hundreds of years, and never in history have this many Indigenous American tribes united under any cause. Global awareness of the prophetic ‘No DAPL’ movement has skyrocketed in the past months as thousands have flocked to encampments in and around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannonball, North Dakota. Many have camped directly in the pipeline’s path, and most have gathered on the front line at one time or another to physically prevent construction from moving forward.

It seems that demonstrators with signs have done more to halt construction than our president has. In early September, President Obama issued a public statement requesting that Energy Transfer Partners voluntarily halt construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, a federally registered U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ‘project area,’ while environmental impacts were to be assessed [3]. Dakota Access had already completed well over 90% of the project. When I read the Sept. 9th press release, I was mortified. Would the private company volunteer to stop building? No, of course not. Did they continue working under cover of the night, invade reservation air space with unmarked, unlighted aircraft (defying several FAA regulations,) hire a private henchman to infiltrate our camp with semi-automatic firearms, and use low-flying crop dusters to spray unidentified chemical agents over our peaceful assembly? Yes, absolutely.

While the statement sparked relief among those supporting the protests from afar, many of whom celebrated on social media as if Obama had killed the black snake and we could all go home, everyone at camp knew nothing would change. As a matter of fact, still nothing has changed even after the Obama administration announced on December 4th that the Army Corps of Engineers would not be granting the easement for ETP to drill under the Missouri. The company issued a response later that same day stating that they are “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. [4]” Closing the statement with a big middle finger, ETP said, “Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Of course, in the window between Obama’s statement and ETP’s response, major news outlets like NBC showed up to broadcast Standing Rock’s “big victory.” Many online supporters were, once again, enthralled with the news and checked Standing Rock off their list of to-dos. Perhaps it takes freezing in a tent on a hillside in North Dakota to truly realize corporate America’s outstanding capacity for shameless disregard. Unless it encourages profits (or poses an actual immediate threat to them), no piece of legislation, international law, federal law or word from the president’s mouth bears an ounce of weight on the shoulders of oil moguls.

If ETP’s response to the easement denial doesn’t alarm you, consider that president-elect Donald Trump has declared Rick Perry, who sits on the Energy Transfer Partners Board of Directors, as his choice for Secretary of Energy [5]. Trump himself is likely to overturn the denial: not only has he been a vocal proponent of the pipeline, he owns stock in both ETP and Phillips 66, which has a 25% stake in the completed project [6]. Politics (and conflicts of interest) aside, ETP’s drill pad on banks of Lake Oahe remains fully equipped, staffed and active, and the Army Cops continues allow illegal corporate activity in their ‘project areas’ to go on unobserved. We’ve seen this trend proliferating in capitalist ventures all over the world. Profits over people. Collusion in the government. What’s something you don’t know?

How about this: between 1986 and 2013, a mere 28-year period, there were over 4,000,000 barrels (that’s 168,000,000 gallons) of hazardous liquids spilled from pipelines in the continental U.S. alone [7]. Each year, an average of 1,323,000 gallons are left not cleaned up, and the extractive industry simply adds it to their $7,000,000,000 property damage tab. While those stats may look outrageous written out numerically, this is what ecological and social devastation has come to: another confounding number on a paper for quarterly review. Oil conglomerates are undiscriminating entities; their trajectories appear to remain exactly the same regardless of results. Unfortunately for Energy Transfer Partners, no amount of investor support will disguise the fact that pipelines are an antiquated technology. We are witnessing today what the Lakota prophesied over 100 years ago: the black snake fighting a dying battle against its own expiration.

After Mace – Rob Wilson

Our modern day culture spoon-feeds us all sorts of propaganda. For example, in 2010, in the very same moments President Obama was delivering an inspiring speech about expanding oil exploration and energy independence for the U.S., Taylor Energy Partnership was gushing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico just 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana. You may want to sit down for this one: the damaged drilling platform had already been continuously spilling for 6 straight years, is still spilling right now. A 2015 Associated Press investigation revealed the leak was worse than TEC admitted, and regulators say the spill could last a century or more if left unaddressed, as it has been for the last 14 years [8].

Obama’s same speech stated that drilling is safe, and that leaks in the Gulf resulting from Hurricane Katrina were from “oil refineries and not from the drilling operations.” It is worth noting here that with a little digging (or, in some cases, a measly scratch) one realizes that propaganda rarely makes sense. Why would it be safe to drill for oil if, once it gets to the refinery, it is then not safe? Recently, a friend told me that about a year ago, she and her buddies went swimming at an island off the coast of Texas. When they got out of the water, all of them had oil on their skin, in their hair, and between their toes. Imagine a world where no one can go in the ocean without getting cancer. Offshore drilling operations are not safe, and they are certainly no safer than refineries. In some senses they are much worse, because spills can go on for decades unnoticed. (Except from space! Yes, the oil sheen from the Taylor spill is clearly visible from outer space. Sadly, it is not visible from the Oval Office.)


In late August of 2016, five adults and five children were killed while camping in New Mexico after a natural gas pipeline exploded. The spokeswoman for El Paso Natural Gas Company, Norma Dunn, said the explosion could have been touched off by anything — a spark generated by rocks striking each other, someone lighting a cigarette or coal from a barbecue [9]. If a family having a barbeque at a campsite means imminent death, what does this say about our priorities as a nation? Two months later, the explosion of the Colonial Pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama, triggered a 31-acre forest fire in the middle of a severe drought. This was the same pipeline that made headlines in September when it spilled 300,000 gallons just a mile from the Cahaba River, one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the U.S. [10] One person died and 4 people were injured. Meanwhile, gas prices went up approximately 15 cents per gallon [11].

The ecological and social devastation resulting from oil spills is so horrifying, consumers may have taken a mass-stand against new pipeline infrastructure long ago if not for routine media blackouts. Since 2011, Navy Veteran and tar sands whistleblower John Bolenbaugh has devoted his life to exposing the haunting after-effects of the 2010 tar sands oil spill in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the subsequent cover-up by Enbridge and the EPA. Bolenbaugh says the pressure of covering up oil was too much for him. After Enbridge dumped 1,000,000 gallons of crude tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, the company called him in to assist with “cleanup.” What he saw was workers burying oil and planting grass directly over the spilled oil.

“I’ve seen 40 miles of dead fish, thousands of dead animals, I’ve seen a dump-truck full of dead animals…” Bolenbaugh says. “I figured, well that’s what happens when you have an oil spill. But I had no idea later that they would say it didn’t happen… that the fish were fine. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. [12]

He reported the cover-up, was fired the next day, then went to 1,400 homes – “every door within reason of the river,” he says, and interviewed about 150 people. “It’s just crazy… people… their mom died, their sister died, their wife died, their kid died.” In a compilation of interviews posted to his YouTube channel, resident after resident reports having seizures for the first time, chronic migraines, uncontrollable vomiting, miscarriages, and their children or grandchildren contracting leukemia – all within days or weeks after the spill [13]. In some cases, the company didn’t report the oil spills until several days afterwards, then lied about air-sample tests and left residents in the dark when they should have been evacuated immediately. After Enbridge failed to evacuate residents of a nearby trailer park for 10 days following the spill, 16 people died. Humans cannot live amidst oil.

On video Bolenbaugh stands on the banks of the Kalamazoo river, explains that Enbridge and the EPA signed off on multiple spill sites as “100% cleaned,” then tilts the camera down to show himself standing knee deep in thick black tar that bares no resemblance to water. Since the Enbridge cover-up, fighting the toxic tar sands and the Dakota Access Pipeline have become Bolenbaugh’s battleground. By exposing the inevitable disasters that go along with oil dependency, Bolenbaugh hopes to demonstrate that temporary jobs that destroy communities are not worth it. He says if oil companies would only fix the leaky pipelines, instead of issuing extensions on them until the day they burst, workers would be busy with work for hundreds of years. Instead, they allow the pipelines to leak and they allow the spills to occur, because they profit off the spills.

In an interview with Jordan Chariton of The Young Turks, here’s how Bolenbaugh lays it out: Enbridge knew the pipeline in Michigan was bad for 5 years. If they had shut it down, they would’ve lost $8 million in revenue a day. After the 30-60 days it takes to fix the leaks, they would’ve lost a few hundred million dollars. If they wait for a spill, they still profited for those 5 years the pipe was leaky, and then the insurance company hires them to clean up their own mess (or at least say they did), because the oil company owns the company that cleans up the oil spills, and the company that manufactures the cleanup materials.

You might be saying, ‘Wait a minute, so if they spill the oil, they make the same amount of money as if the pipeline were running?’ Well, in the worst-case scenario, yes: the oil pipeline gets shut down, there is no way to keep selling the oil, and they offset their losses with “cleanup.” But in the best-case scenario, they actually work a net profit. They raise gas prices, buy all the local property for 70% of value, then sell the property for 110-120% after they say it’s clean, and have buyers sign off on their right to sue if they get sick. It’s not just that Enbridge didn’t care. They were waiting to bank on a spill, and if not for Bolenbaugh’s thorough documentation and relentless pursuit of justice, Enbridge would have saved roughly $600 million in cleanup costs [14].

NoDAPL Army published by PBS

What does the future hold? If we work hard enough for it, and commit to both reducing our consumption and redirecting our sourcing, the future could be bright. One of the world’s largest corporations, Google, is on track to reach 100% renewable in 2017. The company plans to spend $3.5 billion in upcoming renewable energy infrastructure investments worldwide, two-thirds of which will be in the United States. This makes Google the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world [15].

Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, has made a full commitment to clean energy. They currently produce almost 30% of their energy from renewables and aim to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% come 2050 [16]. Political will has been a key component in the energiewende, or energy transition. When polled, 90% of Germans express support for the energy initiative. In 1975, when the German government pushed the construction of a nuclear reactor by threatening a loss of power in Freiberg, local villagers refused. They flocked to the reactor site in the small town of Wyhl and erected encampments, just as we see at Standing Rock. Police sparked uproar in nearby villages when they responded with authoritarian force in an attempt to clear the squatters [17]. Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, as police violence escalated, more people traveled to join the occupation. Finally, after nearly 10 years and the camp population peaking at 30,000 [18], the government gave up the fight and the reactor was left unbuilt. And what happened in Freiberg? It became a global leader in solar energy research, and now produces 50% of its energy from solar alone [17].

Adopting a new energy paradigm is not just about extolling solar, wind, or any other energy alternative. We must understand why our current paradigm is inferior and undesirable, and then vehemently stand by that knowing. “I had come to Germany thinking the Germans were foolish to abandon a carbon-free energy source that, until Fukushima, produced a quarter of their electricity. I came away thinking there would have been no energiewende at all without antinuclear sentiment,” writes National Geographic journalist Robert Kunzig. Like the risk of contaminating the longest river in the nation, the largest aquifer in the nation, and the 4th largest reservoir in the nation, “the fear of [nuclear] meltdown is a much more powerful and immediate motive than the fear of slowly rising temperatures and seas,” Kunzig remarks on the mass resistance to nuclear energy in Germany. Thanks to overwhelming citizen action and support, and a government willing to heed the threat of another Fukushima, all 17 of Germany’s reactors will be closed for good by 2022. Germany is among a growing number of countries that are abandoning death-sentence energy practices. Between 2010 and 2015, geothermal energy shot up from 13% to 51% of Kenya’s total energy reliance. As a result, domestic energy costs have dropped 30% [19]. Costa Rica is already producing a whopping 99% of their energy from renewables [20], and in 2015, Denmark broke the world record for wind power by generating 42% of their energy needs though wind [21].

It is becoming increasingly clear that fossil fuels will never be safe. Big Oil’s dirty tricks are meant to fly under the radar, but they can’t hide what’s under our noses: oil in the river and neighborhoods dying off in the aftermaths of spills. So long as there are pipelines, there will be spills – it’s their business model. And it’s our responsibility as consumers to stop subscribing to the false portrayal of oil as a safe or viable solution to our energy needs. It’s time to break free from a broken method designed by broken people who fail to recognize that in killing the Earth they are killing themselves. The black snake is slowly drowning in a sea of truth, but it sure isn’t dead yet, and the longer we let it ravage our Land, the more contamination and sickness we will have to address. We must promote the movement towards clean energy with vigor. Our very lives depend on it. Below, we have listed some action steps for you to take. They are not just good ideas. They are your way to shift from being a bystander to asserting a presence, for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

As they say at Standing Rock: “You can’t drink oil; keep it in the soil.”

Still Focus Photography


Pipeline teepees

Works Cited:

  1. “Archaeologists & Museums Denounce Destruction of Standing Rock Sioux Burial Grounds.” The Natural History Museum. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  2. “The Route: Quick Facts About Dakota Access Pipeline.” DAPL Pipeline Facts. Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  3. Office of Public Affairs. “Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” United States Department of Justice. Department of Justice, 9 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  4. ”Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners Respond to the Statement from the Department of the Army.” Business Wire. Berkshire Hathaway, 04 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  5. Eilperin, Juliet, and Steven Mufson. “Trump taps Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head Energy Department, an agency he vowed to abolish.” Chicago Tribune. N.p., 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  6. Neidig, Harper. “Trump owns stock in Dakota Access parent company.” TheHill. Capitol Hill Publishing Corporation, 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
  7. Stover, Richard, Ph.D. “America’s Dangerous Pipelines: Analysis by Richard Stover, Ph.D., and the Center for Biological Diversity.” Biological Diversity. Center for Biological Diversity, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  8. The Associated Press. “Taylor Energy agrees to share Gulf oil leak documents.” Nola Media Group, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  9. “Pipeline Explosion Kills 10 Campers in N.M.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
  10. “Biodiversity in the Cahaba River.” Cahaba River Society, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  11. Kumar, Device Krishna. “Colonial may open key U.S. gasoline line by Saturday after fatal blast.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 01 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  12. Wedder, Rod. Whistleblower John Bolenbaugh tears up explaining Standing Rock’s importance., 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <>
  13. Bolenbaugh, John. #NODAPL Enbridge Lies and I have the video PROOF. John Bolenbaugh. John Bolenbaugh HELPPA. YouTube., 25 Oct. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  14. TYT Politics. DAPL’s Worst Nightmare: Big Oil EXPOSED By Whistleblower., TYT Politics, 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  15. Ann, Carrie. “Google to go Green by 2017 by Using Renewable Energy.” Industry Leaders Magazine. N.p., 10 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  16. Kunzig, Rob. “Why Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 15 Oct. 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
  17. Morris, Craig. “The Inventors of the Energiewende: Wyhl: the birthplace of energy democracy.” Renewables International The Magazine. SunMedia Verlag, 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Dec. 2016.
  18. Martinez Alier, Joan. “Wyhl anti-nuke movement in Kaiserstuhl, Germany | EJAtlas.” Environmental Justice Atlas. ENVJUST Project, 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Dec. 2016.
  19. “Kenya’s Geothermal Investments Contribute to Green Energy Growth, Competitiveness and Shared Prosperity.” World Bank. The World Bank Group, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  20. “Costa Rica boasts 99% renewable energy in 2015.” Science X Network, 18 Dec. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
  21. Neslen, Arthur. “Denmark broke world record for wind power in 2015.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

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