Climate campaigners have embraced the fight, seeing another Keystone-style focal point in their “keep it in the ground” push against fossil fuels. That might work symbolically and energize progressives, but oil is a global commodity and will find a path from wells to markets as long as demand persists. (Even Elon Musk conceded last April* that oil will be needed for a long time to come.)
The prime issue along the current pipeline route is the one that energized the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native Americans many months ago — a pattern of deep injustice.
It’s a pattern that extends back to the erosion of treaty rights starting in the 1860s through court fights following U.S. Army Corps of Engineers damming projects along the Missouri River, according to Peter Capossela, an attorney specializing in federal Indian law who has represented the Standing Rock tribe in the past.
When you have time, listen to Capossela in an interview with TYT Politics Reporter Jordan Chariton. “The Corps issuing the permits for Dakota Access is part of a long history of oppression against Standing Rock,” Capossela told Chariton, adding: “The war against the standing rock Sioux tribe is the longest war in American history, and this is a new front.”
Hopefully, there’s enough logic and power in the basic justice issue, in which a pipeline route was redrawn to avoid mainly-white populations and property north of Bismarck, to carry the day once the election is over.
The Dakota and Lakota of the Standing Rock tribe would hardly be the first American Indians to pay the price for white people who want to move environmental hazards out of sight, out of mind and out of their water faucets. If the federal government shifts the pipeline route again — perhaps closer to Bismarck — maybe that will prompt a full, meaningful discussion of the pipeline’s merits, with a fairer assessment of its true costs.
A pipeline may well be the most profitable and efficient way to move a half-million barrels of crude oil a day across the Plains. But in a time of oil gluts and plummeting oil prices, is it worth it? Is it worth the degradation of the environment, the danger to the water, the insult to the heritage of the Sioux?
To learn more, a great starting point is a map created by Carl M. Sack, a geographer and cartographer studying at the University of Wisconsin whose wider body of work can be explored at Northlandia.com:
Sack stands with those hoping to stop the pipeline altogether. That legal, political, ethical and economic issue will play out in the weeks ahead.
What excites me here most is that a young cartographer, sensing an unbalanced visual landscape, has worked to fill the gap.
I’m reminded of Jamie Serra, a young employee of the Pennsylvania state legislature who sought to clarify issues in the shale-gas regions of that state by creating the Fracktrack.org website using government data on well sites, permits, violations and more. I wrote on such mapping in 2012.
Sack’s closing thought in his post nicely captures the issue and opportunity in such situations:
I felt strongly that there still needed to be a map of the area that would look familiar to most viewers and orient them to the important geographic facts of the struggle. I don’t claim that none of those facts are currently in dispute, but I recognize that all maps (even road maps overlaid with pink polygons) take a position and create knowledge based on the cartographer’s point of view. Maps have great power, and it’s a power anyone with pen and paper or a computer can wield.
My Wisconsin-bred geographer hero Zoltan Grossman once declared, “The side with the best maps wins.” The pipeline company has an army backed by state power to do its bidding. The water has its scrappy protectors. It’s time we put the latter on the map.
To download a large-scale printable version of the map, click here.
* I attended Musk’s speech at a meeting on sustainable transportation just before our Anthropocene Working Group meeting in that city. This tweet has a link to video and his quote: