CANNONBALL, N.D. (CN) – Standing Rock Tribe supporters celebrated the Dec. 4 news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an oil company’s permit to run a pipeline below their water source. But events that have followed show the elation could be short-lived.
The day after the corps’ denial had all the signs of a day of reckoning for those opposed to the Energy Transfer Partners pipeline running between North Dakota oil fields and refineries in Illinois. But the 11th-hour decision averted that. Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault told the thousands camped at Oceti Sakowin that they had achieved their goals of getting the corps to deny the permit to drill under the Oahe Reservoir on the Missouri River and to require an environmental impact study, which takes months to complete.
“These are things that we’ve been asking for. Today is a moment in time that we will all remember,” Archambault said. “It’s wonderful that we don’t have to stand and endure this hard winter. It’s time now that we move forward, and we don’t forget, but we forgive.”
Archambault urged supporters to go home but remain vigilant.
But another elder who spoke after Archambault said the pipeline company might continue drilling without a permit so people shouldn’t leave. Energy Transfer Partners had already ignored the Obama administration’s Sept. 8 request to halt construction while the Army Corps reconsidered. The elder feared the company would pay the $50,000-a-day fine with the expectation that President-elect Donald Trump would reverse the corps’ decision when he takes office in January.
While Energy Transfer Partners issued a statement calling the Army Corps decision “political” and saying they remain committed to the pipeline route, it does not appear they are continuing to dig.
But some Sioux don’t trust the company or the Army Corps and are condemning Archambault for telling people to leave. As a result, the movement is beginning to splinter between those calling for patience and those who demand action. Chase Iron Eyes, who leads a group called Last Real Indians on social media, said 1,000 people remain ensconced in the Oceti camp and asked people to join them.
“Who are we to abandon our struggle? Who are we to forsake the 550 people who have been arrested? Those who have been shot by rubber bullets, who had their lives put at risk by the water cannons in freezing temperatures?” Iron Eyes said.
In the meantime, some protesters who were injured by crowd-control tactics on Nov. 20 are suing the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and others for use of excessive force.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard at the Sacred Stone Camp said the Obama decision to deny the permit is not a win.
“They made it sound like a done deal but it is not true.”
But on Friday, the Sioux got some more good news. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg of the District of Columbia denied Energy Transfer Partners’ request for an expedited hearing on their lawsuit challenging the permit denial. The company said it is losing $20 million every day that the pipeline is delayed. The company is also worried about investors pulling their money out of the pipeline. Their contract allowed partners to back out if oil wasn’t flowing by Jan. 1.
But Boasberg set the hearing date for early February, saying everyone must be heard because “these are complex issues.”