Mid-Missouri activists join fight against crude oil pipeline

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COLUMBIA - In the wake of national protests over the construction of a new crude oil pipeline, activists in mid-Missouri are rallying against the project.

If constructed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would transport crude oil approximately 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Southern Illinois.

The pipeline will not physically enter the state of Missouri, but local environmentalists said they oppose the project because it will cross the Missouri River in North Dakota. The activists fear pollution from the pipeline would flow downstream, and harm the local environment. 

The pipeline will travel through more than 50 counties in four different states. Project engineers estimate the it will move and average of 470,000 barrels of crude oil every day. 

Below is the official route map of the Dakota Access Pipeline, courtesy of its parent company Energy Transfer Partners.

The epicenter of the national movement against the pipeline is in North Dakota. In July, an environmental group filed a lawsuit on behalf on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. It believes the construction will pollute its local water supply, and decimate lands that are protected by a hundred-years-old treaty between the federal government and the Native American tribes.

Columbia resident Perry Bigsoldier is of full Native American heritage. He said, though he does not belong to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, he maintains a close connection to the people there.

"My mother belonged to the Sac and Fox tribe, and my father was an Otoe," Bigsoldier said. "The Sioux were our neighbors. I would even say that they're our relatives. We probably fought a little bit with them, rejoiced with them and hunted buffalo with them."

Bigsoldier said he sympathizes with the Native Americans in the Dakotas.

"The treaties are saying that, 'ok, this is your alloted land, and that it is protected.'" Bigsoldier said. "That's the main thing they're fighting about up there." 

KOMU 8 News reached out to a spokesperson for the pipeline. While she did not agree to an interview, she did issue a statement.

Vicki Granado said her company has decided to temporarily stop construction where the protests are the most active.

"We have temporarily deferred grading activities across a short section of the right-of-way while law enforcement works to contain the unlawful protests, in light of the fact that we have the necessary permits and approvals to work at this site," Granado said.

Bigsoldier responded to the statement by saying the pipeline's business permits mean nothing if they are trespassing on a reservation.

"Your paperwork has no jurisdiction on Indian land," Bigsoldier said. "According to the treaties."

Company executives behind the Dakota Access Pipeline said they will financially compensate landowners who are affected by the construction. 

However, Bigsoldier said that will not convince the tribes.

"We don't want the money," he said. "Indigenous [people] across the world, they just want their land back."

In addition to the Native American community, environmental activists across the United States oppose the pipeline.

On Sunday, around 40 mid-Missouri activists gathered at Cooper's Landing on the shore of the Missouri River for a somewhat impromptu protest.

Bigsoldier acted as an unofficial keynote speaker at the gathering. 

He said he had been following the protests in North Dakota very closely. He said he wanted to join the protest effort, but could not afford to travel up to the Dakotas for a demonstration. He said that is when he and another activist had the idea to organize a local demonstration, with just a few day's notice.

During the protest, Bigsoldier tried to explain the plight of his people. 

"Since 1492 we've been fighting this same battle," Bigsoldier said. "We've been quiet, as a people. But that's no longer necessary. We're not taking it anymore. We're standing up for what's right."

Julie Donnelly attended Sunday's rally. She said she and her husband recently returned from a visit to North Dakota, and they witnessed firsthand the environmental toll of fracking and drilling. She said the conditions in the north will find their way down south.

"All this activity with the oil and gas, it's coming downstream to us," Donnelly said. "Anything that happens there affects us. And not just us, but our children, and our children's children."

Bigsoldier said the pipeline project should strike a chord with all mid-Missourians.

"It's everybody's water," Bigsoldier said as he pointed to the shore of the Missouri River. "I don't know if you've ever just taken all this is in, but you need to. This beautiful thing that we have over here is at risk."

Pipeline project leaders said they follow every state and federal regulation when it comes to design, construction and maintenance. The creators even go as far to say that, in many instances, they exceed government safety standards. They said underground pipelines are the safest mode of transporting crude oil, and every joint in the pipeline will be inspected visually, with an X-ray machine, to assure there won't be any leaks.

However, Donnelly said the company is making a promise it can't keep.

"Every pipeline leaks," Donnelly said. "And when it does, that leaked oil will pollute our river."

While the construction near the North Dakota protests has temporarily halted, the pipeline spokesperson said work on the project continues elsewhere. As the project awaits the lawsuit ruling from a federal judge, neither side appears to show any side of giving in.