For weeks now, the fight over fracking has become focused on one North Dakota battlefield. Both proponents of the practice and protestors have descended upon the proposed site of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a potentially critical means of transporting crude oil between North Dakota and Illinois, being built by a firm called Energy Transfer Partners. Unfortunately, the proposed path of the pipeline runs through some extremely important territory that’s righteously upsetting a group of Native Americans. More than that though, the Standing Rock Movement has catalyzed a debate that’s been slowly growing at the fringes of American society.
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Why is it So Important?
North Dakota is home to big portions of the Bakken Shale Formation, an abundant source of shale and crude oil that’s playing host to several new fracking projects. The Dakota Access Pipeline is supposed to transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day, from North Dakota to Illinois. The project cost $4 billion to set up, and it stands to make its owners a whole heck of a lot more than that.
Okay, So What’s the Problem With the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Foregoing all the political and environmental baggage that accompanies any new pipeline project, the real issue with the Dakota Access Pipeline is that the proposed path of the pipeline runs right underneath the Missouri River, the primary water source of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. In spite of assurances that the pipeline will be super duper safe, the Native Americans who rely on the Missouri River are unwilling to accept the assurances of the government (for some reason).
Is There Really a Problem, Or is This Just Liberal Hokum?
Honestly, the odds aren’t in favor of the pipeline being foolproof. Since 1986, there have been roughly 8,000 incidents. Most estimates put pipeline spillage at about 3 million gallons a day, that’s about 200 barrels spilled every single day. What’s more, the smallest spill at the wrong point could completely ruin the Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply. In other words, the Native Americans’ protest has merit.
The Sioux Are Protecting Their Water, But Everyone Else is Fighting a Totally Different Battle
The Native American hook has gotten the news media interested in the Standing Rock battle, but the vast majority of the protestors are on the ground to fight the proliferation of fracking. While the Standing Rock Sioux fight for the purity of their water, environmental activists are worried about the fracking projects that are the reason for the pipeline’s existence.
So What’s Wrong With Fracking?
To hear an environmentalist tell it, fracking was the brain child of Satan and Megatron, a diabolical ploy to plunge the world toward complete ruination. For real though, irresponsible fracking has been linked to earthquakes, groundwater contamination (more on that one in a bit), and general eyesores on the horizon. Essentially, environmentalists worry that fracking will cause an increase in climate change, and a decrease in our quality of life.
So, If Fracking is So Evil, Why Do It?
Because fracking might possibly suck, but it’s still a better alternative than what we’ve been doing (like mining for coal). Fracking isn’t as clean as other potential sources of energy. Renewable power like solar or wind is always the better option, the only problem is that the infrastructure to support clean energy simply isn’t in place. As a result, fracking represents a kind of bridge fuel that might help cut down carbon emissions, while also keeping all of our lights on until we’re able to make the permanent move to cleaner sources of energy. Some countries, like Japan, find little to no fault with fracking. It’s really only a problem in Europe and the United States.
Does Fracking Really Cause Earthquakes?
Yes, it does. That’s just science. Fortunately, those earthquakes are on the decline thanks to some new regulations that have been put in place. In other words, the earthquakes caused by fracking are largely avoidable if the practice is done responsibly. It’s only when fracking companies don’t follow proper procedure that things go wrong. And that brings us to the groundwater debate.
Does Fracking Contaminate Groundwater?
That depends on who you ask, the EPA or the EPA. See, if you had asked the EPA that question in early June, they would have said that fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater. That conclusion was based on a five-year study done by the agency. Then, a few weeks later, an advisory board of about 30 EPA officials tried to negate the study’s findings, calling it “incomplete.” As a result, there’s still some debate over whether fracking is a consistent threat to drinking water.
Again Though, the Standing Rock Controversy IS NOT Related to Fracking’s Effect on Drinking Water
As much as protestors might try to make the conflict at the Dakota Access pipeline about the harmful impact of fracking, the Standing Rock Sioux aren’t fighting to end the process of fracking. They’re hoping to preserve their drinking water from a pipeline which poses a very possible threat of contamination.
Is the Protest Working?
There’s something of a standoff at the moment, but quite honestly, the likelihood of construction stopping on the Dakota Access Pipeline is pretty slim. Both state and local governments support the pipeline, support that has helped construction continue in spite of the protest. An huge force of police have assembled, and they’re itching to arrest those people who step a toe over the line. Several hundred people have already been arrested to date, and police have reportedly used pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other tactics to keep the tribe under control.
But Mark Ruffalo is There!
Yeah, one of the Avengers has swooped in and actually visited the site of the protest, which now occupies a major Dakota Access Pipeline construction site. He’s not the only one either. Several celebrities and politicians including Jesse Jackson, have shown up to support the Native American led protest. Though winter has begun to set in, several protestors have vowed to hold their position.
The President is On the Side of the Pipeline
President-elect Donald Trump is likely in favor of shutting down the protest. Not only did the incoming President run on a campaign of increasing the United States’ oil and gas production, he also owns stock in Energy Transfer Partners. That means even in spite of the supposed “blind trust” the Donald is going to put into place, he still stands to make some money if the pipeline continues as planned.
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