The U.S. government’s unprecedented decision late last week to order a halt to permitted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline upstream from Sioux territory along the Missouri River, and to enter “government to government” discussions with the tribe, is emerging as a potential watershed moment for both the oil and gas industry and indigenous activism.
“The government’s decision to pause the pipeline may have changed the game for those in the oil industry,” the Christian Science Monitor writes in an assessment of its impacts on the business. Mostly, those amount to uncertainty, delays, and cost.
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“We don’t know what the implications are, other than that it’s going to have a huge chilling effect on our national ability to move forward with infrastructure projects,” Brigham McCown, a former pipeline regulator turned industry consultant, told the Monitor.
The US$3.7-billion pipeline was expected to begin delivering oil later this year. Without it, the paper predicts, additional oil from the North Dakota Bakken fields will have to be shipped through already clogged pipelines or by rail, which is more expensive. A lack of storage in North Dakota, however, means the oil must be moved.
“That’s a problem for shippers, who have already started buying oil which they expected to move via the Dakota Access pipeline,” the outlet reports. As a result, it forecasts, “shippers may choose to sell their oil at a loss rather than take the financial hit of moving it by rail or using existing pipelines to get the oil to the storage hub in Oklahoma. In the process, oil producers will feel the pinch.”
“What’s not yet obvious,” comments Politico’s Morning Energy blog, “is whether the industry has altered the political strategy that failed on Keystone, which saw oil and gas companies taking their case to Congress even as the Obama administration saw less and less political downside to killing the project.”
While the government’s decision has dismayed oil producers and shippers, it has provided Indigenous activists across North America with their most empowering symbolic rallying point in years.
“What’s happening at Standing Rock is extraordinary and possibly transformative for native rights, Sioux history, and the intersection of the climate movement with Indigenous communities,” historian and activist Rebecca Solnit wrote in a lengthy report for The Guardian after spending two days among 1,000 Indigenous and other pipeline resisters camped at the Standing Rock site.
The influence of the moment is being felt in Canada, as well, where First Nations chiefs say they have reached out to the Sioux resistance leaders as potential allies in a proposed continental treaty among Indigenous nations that would commit its signatories to mutual assistance in opposition to fossil energy infrastructure, the National Observer reports.
Serge Simon, Grand Chief of the Kanesatake Mohawks, said he and other Mohawk chiefs will travel to North Dakota next week to “bring the [proposed resistance] treaty to them and see if they’re willing to be supporters, and at the same time, we’ll be able to help them,” the Observer reports.
“It’s inspiring,” Simon told the outlet, “because it’s not only a native issue. We’re seeing non-natives that are joining on board across the United States, Europe—we’re seeing a mobilization of humanity, not just the First Nations.”
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