Letter to the editor: protestors and police clash over ND pipeline

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The normally tranquil Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota has become ground zero of an escalating conflict between militarized law enforcement and a growing number of protesters opposed to the completion of a multi-billion dollar pipeline project that runs by the Sioux tribe reservation. In recent weeks the conflict has turned violent as property has been destroyed and protesters have been arrested.

The project at the center of the controversy is the Dakota Access pipeline. The $3.8 billion project, upon completion, is intended to transport more than 450,000 gallons of crude oil per day from North Dakota through South Dakota and eventually connect with an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline is to stretch 1,172 miles when completed, but has had to break from plan as protesters have squatted on the public area.

Opponents of the project initially responded with litigation and quiet protest in an attempt to slow or halt the pipeline. The now roughly 1,000 protesters, consisting of both Native Americans and activists, including movie stars Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley, assert that the pipeline threatens the safety of the only water supply for the area. Further, the commercial company behind the project, Energy Transfer Partners, is infringing on land that belongs to the local Sioux Tribe and threatening their public health and cultural resources. They view the pipeline as a continuation of the decades of slights and torn-up treaties that Native American tribes have had to endure.

Supporters, on the other hand, claim that the risk of a leak is minuscule, and that the construction would create 8,000 to 12,000 additional jobs in the North Dakota area. In addition, observers attest that alternative energy sources are not realistic, and crude oil is the only practical solution. Finally, the pipeline would lessen U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
In recent days, Bearcat armored vehicles, tasers, bean bag shotgun rounds, and tear gas have been introduced by law enforcement to attack and quell the protesters. More than 400 of the protesters have been arrested.

Pittsburgh residents have recent history with Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company heading the Dakota Access pipeline project. The company was responsible for a spill of 55,000 gallons of gasoline in the Susquehanna River last week threatening to contaminate the water supply for all areas downstream.