THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS announced yesterday that they would not be allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to be completed along the currently proposed route, which involves drilling under the Missouri River.
While this is certainly cause for celebration for all of the water protectors camped out at Oceti Sakowin, protesting the building of the pipeline, it is far from certain victory. Alternative routes for the pipeline will be explored, but the environmental reviews related to these can take months, or even years. ETP stands to lose millions of dollars while the project sits in limbo.
It’s not out of the question that they will simply drill under the Missouri, and complete the pipeline without the necessary permits. Yes, they will be fined — but they stand to lose a lot more money by doing nothing at all.
The Army Corps of Engineers has ordered the protectors to vacate camp by December 5th, and many are wary of the decision to suspend completion of the pipeline the day before they’re supposed to leave. Reasonably so, they see it as a ploy to get protectors peacefully out of camp before the harsh North Dakota winter strikes.
It’s possible that this decision is a ruse. It’s a way to resolve, or at the very least de-escalate, this conflict the week after thousands of veterans made national headlines by turning out to protect the water protectors as they prayed. Water protectors can return home to the comforts of modern life, confident that they took a stand and made a difference.
President Obama has 47 days left in office. He is a lame duck, and the incoming Trump administration has a decidedly different stance on the completion of the pipeline: they are in favor of its completion.
This victory could be short-lived. The decision to delay the approval of the drilling permits could easily be reversed by the incoming Trump administration, a fact which is decidedly not out of the question. While there are members of Oceti Sakowin that have vowed to camp through the winter, keeping an eye on the construction of the pipeline, their numbers will dwindle as the temperatures drop and the snow accumulates. The Standoff at Standing Rock will fade from the national conscience; the country will move on to other things.
Make no mistake, the cessation of construction is a victory for those who have decided to Stand With Standing Rock, and fight for something they believe in. But the battle is far from over. The Army Corps of Engineers could still reverse their decision, and allow the drilling necessary to complete the pipeline.
I’ll be wary of any celebrations of victory on behalf of the protectors until the pipeline is completed—using another route, far from Standing Rock. There is still too much that can happen to declare this a win for the water protectors. Only time will tell which side can ultimately celebrate “victory” in this ugly, bloody standoff.