Dakota Access Pipeline: Oil Dependency vs Cultural Democracy

Last week, authorities defended their decision to douse protesters with water during a skirmish in subfreezing weather – causing at least seventeen protesters taken to the hospital – sparked anger all over the U.S. and gained more attention from government, media, and people towards Dakota Access Pipeline.

Dakota pipeline is stretched 1,172 miles from North Dakota, going southeast to South Dakota, Iowa, and ended in Illinois. The pipeline is also projected to carry 470,000 barrels per day (maximum capacity is 570,000 barrels per day). The 30-inch diameter pipeline will distribute oil from the Bakken Formation that approximately has 7.4 billion barrels undiscovered oil – that is roughly 43 years’ oil reserve and two percent of total US oil consumption (The U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015).

Would this be beneficial for the U.S.? Depends on who you ask.

There are pros and cons arguments regarding the development of Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, the company that generated the pipeline, argues that this USD 3.7 billion project will boost the economy by generating jobs and decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil. On the other hand, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claims that the development of Dakota Access Pipeline will destroy their burial sites, prayer sites, and culturally significant artifacts. The debate on energy security and cultural democracy is a long standing since years ago, and it always depends on who runs the country.




U.S. Energy Security

Until this moment, oil is still a major resource of energy in the world as well as in the United States. The U.S. imported 9.45 million barrels’ oil per day in 2015 (The U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015) and with the development of the pipeline, this country can reduce up to five percent of oil imports per day.  Although it does not sound significant, but a little amount of oil import reduction is important in the present day because the uncertainty of the countries where the U.S. imported the oil from, this includes: Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Colombia.

Importing oil from other countries is always risky because we have no control over what is going to happen in those countries. One of the worst disputes the U.S. had encountered was in 1973 when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo in a response to U.S. involvement in the Yom Kippur War. The prices were significantly rising and caused an oil crisis for America. Therefore, any efforts to reduce oil import should be taken seriously by the government of the U.S. to prevent unpredictability in the future.

Moreover, the Dakota Access Pipeline project can generate 8,000 – 12,000 jobs for the next few years and can create an economic boon to the country (Holly Yan, CNN, 2016). According to the Energy Transfer Partners, the oil distribution through pipeline also can free up railways to transport crops and other commodities currently constrained by crude oil cargos. In terms of environmental aspect, the pipeline is safer and environmentally friendly. Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, one of the supporting groups, stated that once the pipeline is completed, it will be among the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world.

Stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

However, besides the destruction of indigenous sites, opponents of this project also argue that there is oil leaked potential, contamination due to breaches – which would go under the Missouri River – and eventual greenhouse gas emissions. The Sioux tribe allege that the developer of Dakota Access Pipeline was not consulted them regarding the development or permitting of the pipeline, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Based on the opinion of James Mayer, an NYU student, the opposition against Dakota Access is not just about environmental concerns, it is a struggle for cultural democracy: the idea that all communities should have a voice in the public cultural issues that concern the public, from how the people are educated to how the government treats the community’s concerns; how business concerns are weighed; how problems are identified and solved; who has a say in civic life; and, ultimately, how our political system operates. This case underlined the ignorance of government regarding cultural democracy that in this case, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe possessed.

Dakota Access Pipeline Protest

Legal battle

In July 2016, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the project and granted final permits. This legalization gave the developer a big leap to continue the project even there are protests everywhere. But the Sioux tribe is not giving up, they filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington D.C. stated that the project violates the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act because it crosses hundreds of federally regulated rivers, streams, and wetlands along its route. They argue under these statutes; the developer needs to have permits under the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The tribes also requested a temporary restraining order of the construction. A decision, however, has made to deny the temporary restraining order but not long after that, the Obama administration announced that it was halting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The battle will continue under the new federal government that will take the office in January next year. We cannot deny the fact that the President-elect is one of the investors of Energy Transfer Partners (Steven Mufson, Washington Post, 2016); we can project that this will be a difficult battle for the opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmentalists who concern about the problem. Time will tell.



Kennedy, M. (n.d.). The Dakota Access Pipeline. Retrieved November 30, 2016, from http://earthjustice.org/cases/2016/the-dakota-access-pipeline#

Mayer, J. (2016, November 22). Op-Ed: What’s Missing from the Dakota Access Pipeline Story? Retrieved November 30, 2016, from https://nyulawcommentator.org/2016/11/22/op-ed-whats-missing-from-the-dakota-access-pipeline-story/

Mufson, S. (2016, October 28). Why Hollywood, environmentalists and Native Americans have converged on North Dakota. Retrieved November 30, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/why-hollywood-environmentalists-and-native-americans-have-converged-on-north-dakota/2016/10/28/007620c8-9c8f-11e6-9980-50913d68eacb_story.html?utm_term=.04d8a91d6648

U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2016, from http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6

Yan, H. (2016, October 28). Dakota Access Pipeline: What’s at stake? Retrieved November 30, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/07/us/dakota-access-pipeline-visual-guide/

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