Parlor Talk: Oil and Water, Protesting Oil Pipelines

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Water is a fundamental right, without it, we cannot survive. Many of us do not even question how we get our water and the potential dangers our water supplies face. We do, however, know much more about our oil. Oil is the fuel of our technological society, and without it, we simply could not live the lives we do today. What happens when these two needs come in conflict with one another, what happens when our desire for oil threatens our water? 

Some may know the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is a crude oil pipeline that will run across North Dakota, coming near the Standing Rock Tribe’s land. Violent protests have marked the opposition against the pipeline. Protesters have been met with rubber bullets and water sprayed from fire hoses. Cited by RTNews, this altercation between the protesters and law enforcement produced one hundred and sixty-seven injuries. 

What causes such violent backlash from a community? Natives claim that this pipeline will travel too close to a sacred site to the Standing Rock Tribe: Lake Oahe. This place has long been considered a very holy place to the Standing Rock people, in addition to all the burial spots that the pipeline is purposed to go through. The pleas of the natives, per SmartNews, were enough for the government to intervene and reassess the validity of these claims to ensure they are compliance with any federal laws. 

According to the DAPL information site, at no point does the pipeline encounter reservation land, and it goes a considerable distance under the water of Lake Oahe. The pipeline exceeds government regulations, and the builders plan to incorporate an extensive monitoring system. With a weekly flyover of the length of the pipeline and 24/7 ground monitoring, it can seem to put your fears to rest. 

Though, this does not seem to satisfy the hundreds who have gone to protest the DAPL pipeline. For these men and women, their fears hinge on the word “if.” If the pipeline bursts, the water could be contaminated. The effects of contaminated water are not pretty. Studies have shown an increased rate of cancer and digestive issues from those exposed to oily water or consuming the meat of animals exposed to the oil.  For these natives, it is a dangerous line to straddle and they would rather not take the chance.

To further understand the issue, we can travel just a bit to the Mni Wiconi pipeline in South Dakota. This pipeline is a critical aspect of the native Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. It provides them clean drinking water, something they do not have access to otherwise. Unfortunately, another Pipeline has come into conflict with the Native interest in clean water. The KXL Pipeline is a similar pipeline that will transport crude oil from Canada to Nebraska. The pipeline crosses the Mni Wiconi water pipeline three times and the natives fear for the safety of their drinking water. In fact, a Mni Wiconi website reported that it was even agreed upon by both parties that a spill could prove disastrous.  

Some of us might be saying, “What’s the big deal?” These people are afraid of something that might never happen, how often do pipelines really burst? The answer to that may shock you. Per EcoWatch, over 220 significant pipeline spills have occurred just this year. These spills leave devastating effects, as wildlife and the surrounding environment can be irrevocably damaged.

With the dangers of such pipelines becoming more apparent and more likely, what can we say to justify the building of these oil transportation systems? The short answer is that humans use energy, and we use a lot of it. The crude oil and natural gas that is transported through these pipes heat our homes and power our cars. How many of us would truly be ready to abandon these luxuries? I’d guess not many.  The facts are that pipelines reduce the cost of transportation significantly for these corporations.

In addition, the economic benefits of the pipelines cannot be disregarded. The jobs created by pipelines help to stimulate economies, and the taxes these pipelines pay provide support to local governments.  The DAPL pipeline claims to have already created over 12,000 jobs and is bringing a huge economic boom to construction businesses.

The fight between these two fundamental rights seems to be fierce. We need water to live, but we have created a dependency on oil. We can’t live without either, but which is more important? It can be hard to watch the Natives of the land, who have already suffered so much at the hands of Governments, to be given the short end of the stick. It's sad, but the reality is that we need oil. We need the stability that oil provides: technological advancement, economic growth, and even our social structures have all been improved by our dependency on oil. Who can say what the right answer is, but as American men, it’s important that we are informed.