Pipeline expansion threatens Native lands

On April 26 of this year, environmentalists rallied in the Washington D.C. area to march on the capitol in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. It was a Saturday, and as I sat outside the National Museum of the American Indian ogling at the quickly materializing array of Birkenstock clad aggravators, the pesky human inclination to gravitate towards conflict got the best of me, and I joined the mass with a very gratifying “yes-man” attitude.

The timing of my high school band’s annual trip coincided by chance with the protest of a controversy previously unknown to myself or my classmates. Over the past year, the Keystone XL pipeline, a United States and Canadian oil pipeline system, which runs across parts of Alberta, Nebraska, Illinois and the Gulf Coast of Texas, has been the cause of three egregious accidents, numerous casualties and damages incurring whopping hits to the taxpayer.

Now, North American energy company TransCanada is extending the line to regions of South Dakota and portions of other states in the Midwest which are predominantly Native American lands in this country. The crisis is spurring an uprising against the misuse of resources and the malevolence of the untamed capitalist-borne corporations, and I witnessed a slice of the backlash on one weekend’s springtime afternoon.

July 2013 marks the advent of the dilemma. An oil train parked in North Dakota rolled into Quebec, derailed and exploded in the town of Lac-Meganatic, killing 47 inhabitants from the region and leaving the area ravaged by a 36-hour fire.

The engineer and railway employees responsible were charged as criminals for the death of each individual, but the railway’s executives were not held accountable for the accident—in fact, the company dealt with no repercussions whatsoever after the incident occurred. The cost of the damage in Lac-Meganatic exceeded the liability insurance of the smaller operation that owned the rogue train by hundreds of millions of dollars, so the Canadian taxpayers were subsequently forced to balance out the deficit by increasing the amount that they had to pay.

In the months following the incident, the collisions of cross-continental trains in Alabama and the derailment of another train, which in this instance exploded in Virginia, ended in the evacuation of thousands and walked the line of being a serious industrial disaster that could have killed many.

Most disheartening of all, however, is the threat that government abuse of reservation lands will continue unhindered with the approval of TransCanada’s development of the pipeline system. Although the Obama Administration hints at concessions in favor of the 17 tribes of the nine reservations involved in negotiations, Republican representatives are applying increasing pressure on the subject, pushing the president to acknowledge the project’s role in expanding job opportunities for many Americans.

In response to a State Department study declaring that Keystone XL will in no way impact global warming, Speaker John Boehner urged the president to agree that the pipeline’s effects will be purely positive. These advancements in the debate are, unfortunately, slowly lessening national opposition to the pipeline among the masses.

An argument that can support Keystone XL is one that is based chiefly in theory. Construction may give way to higher employment rates, but in believing that the environment will be left unharmed by the endeavor, one is buying into a lie already disproved by the Lac-Meganatic, Alabama and Virginia accidents—not only did these cases take an ecological toll, but human lives were directly endangered as well.

Naturally, the promise of tapping a more efficient fuel source with no cost to our climate or habitat while simultaneously providing a surplus of work has widespread allure, but this concept is nothing more than idealized propaganda used by railway executives and conservative House of Representative members to minimize interference by people displeased with the nations decisions involving a lot of environmental issues.

Humanist interests, even in this utopian scenario, would surely be violated, for the pro-pipeline parties are ignoring the collateral damage that will arise when the railroad laborers flock to work camps on the South Dakota reservations; statistics show that one in three Native American women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and with most of the offenders being non-Native American men, it is evident that TransCanada would be flooding this presently hazardous setting with additional fuel for wrongdoing, increasing the risk for these women.

Moreover, the viable risk that a pipeline could irrevocably poison the reservations’ drinking water and other resources on these reservations looms as a threat that neither Boehner nor TransCanada can undoubtedly dispel without the general public noticing. If the protection of the health of a people is ever compromised on these reservations, whether the threat be potential or certain, it is the government’s absolute responsibility to eradicate that threat for the people.

I was immature in rushing into the protest on April 26; I was unaware of the cause, but intrigued by the commotion. However, I was compelled thereafter to inform myself of the background of the Keystone debate, and in doing so, I was jarred by our divide over a project so blatantly harmful and perilous to national wellbeing. Human interests are being shoved aside by those liable for their preservation for the sake of appeasing corporations, and a sizable percentage of the population is apathetic to this. Needless to say, if the development of the oil pipeline is approved, the implications for the perseverance of humanists in 2014 and onward will be grim.

—Emily Sayer ’18 is undeclared.

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