Plenty #10: Raising the Stakes of Fossil Fuels at Standing Rock

The human stories connected to social movements are, almost without exception, highly charged with emotion. Details about the violence and intimidation directed at protesters by corporations and law enforcement generate instantaneous, visceral reactions in people with any amount of compassion. The chronicles of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux, and their allies ignite just such emotions.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (under construction) The finished pipeline will carry up to 450,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude to a terminal near Patoka, Illinois (photo by Lars Ploughman).

The Dakota Access Pipeline (under construction)
The finished pipeline will carry up to 450,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude to a terminal near Patoka, Illinois (photo by Lars Ploughman). ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Few stories could be cast with more contrasting players: unarmed indigenous people and their supporters up against the gargantuan machine (and machines, literally) of corporate power in a existential crisis. The core issue encapsulates the clash of a basic human need, water, with a base human drive, greed.

Originally, I intended this show to be Episode #2 of “Growl,” our new talk show that critically examines some of the bigger questions of the day. The more I learned about the work of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, the more I realized that their story belongs solidly to “Plenty.” Not only is access to safe drinking water the very essence of “Plenty,” but estimates show that one third of the nation’s food crops depend on the health of the Missouri River, under which the Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to lie.

Funnels of cash flowing from financial institutions into the companies behind the bulldozers of the Dakota Access Pipeline (graphic courtesy Food and Water Watch).

Funnels of cash flowing from financial institutions into the companies behind the bulldozers of the Dakota Access Pipeline (graphic courtesy Food and Water Watch).

The pipeline has been heralded as a step toward minimizing U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources by it’s backers. Others have both called that justification into question and pointed to accepted climate models that show the disastrous effects of extracting and burning the fossil fuels that will be transported by the line.

We spoke with Hugh MacMillan, senior researcher on water, energy, and climate issues at the group Food & Water Watch about the science of the conflict and about his organization’s study “Who’s Banking on the Dakota Access Pipeline?” which illustrates the web of financial cables that connect the violence and terror occurring daily at Standing Rock to the banks and financial institutions whose names are not typically connected to the conflict in reports by the mainstream media.

Local Activists Journey to Standing Rock

We also spoke with Shira Lynn Wohlberg, resident of Williamstown, Mass., who is preparing, over the Thanksgiving holiday, to journey to Standing Rock with fellow activists to stand as a Water Protector on the front lines of this struggle. She makes the journey in the aftermath of the tragic wounds suffered by Sophia Wilansky during standoff on a bridge November 20th. Authorities claim that an explosion that tore much of the flesh from one of her arms was caused by an attempt by protesters to bomb a truck with propane cylinders. Witnesses on the scene dispute this, and surgeons, who have removed shrapnel from Wilansky’s arm, say that the injury is consistent with the detonation of a concussion grenade, used to stun military or civilian targets, according to Wilansky’s father.

Wohlberg will be bringing food and supplies to the protest site and might remain there for weeks or months, she says, depending on what course the conflict takes. For information on contributing food, supplies, or cash donations, check out the Water Protectors’ official site or their Facebook page or Facebook page.

 

About Hugh MacMillan

MacMillan is senior researcher on water, energy and climate issues at the group Food & Water Watch. He recently co-wrote the report “Who’s Banking on the Dakota Access Pipeline?” which states: “Powerful oil and gas companies are taking appalling steps to override the Sioux’s objections, using their immense financial resources to push for building this pipeline, which will further line their pockets. But behind the companies building the pipeline is a set of even more powerful Wall Street corporations that might give you flashbacks to the 2007 financial crisis.” Among the companies funding the project are Citibank, Wells Fargo, UBS, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, SunTrust, Credit Suisse and TD Securities.

The report states: “These banks expect to be paid back over the coming decades. By locking in widespread drilling and fracking in the false name of U.S. energy independence and security, the banks are increasing our disastrous dependence on fossil fuels. …
“Even before Dakota Access’s security turned violent, the activists faced harsh responses as Governor Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency, removing water and sanitation resources from the reservation, and the police have set up roadblocks around the reservation. Dozens of protesters have already been arrested, and police have spread false rumors of violence from the peaceful protectors.” Gladstone is deputy communications director for Food & Water Watch.

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