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Standing Rock And The Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need To Know

The fight continues.

29/11/2016 8:27 AM AEDT | Updated 29/11/2016 3:46 PM AEDT
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Stephanie Keith / Reuters
According to the Sioux tribe, the pipeline would taint drinking water, infringe on sacred sites and open up potential for a severe environmental incident.

In the United States the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has ignited issues of climate change, activism and indigenous lands rights. Protesters are opposing the construction of the pipeline that will transport oil across four states as thousands rally at Native American protests in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Their primary concerns are the subsequent environmental impacts of the pipeline, the desecration of sacred burial sites and land owned by Native Americans.

For those of us in Australia, who may have heard snippets of information or have seen it trending on Facebook (it almost always is), here is a breakdown of what we know so far.

Stephanie Keith / Reuters
Protesters rally in Cannon Ball, rural North Dakota in attempt to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?

The 1,172-miles pipeline will be responsible for transporting 500,000 barrels of crude oil everyday from North Dakota to Illinois.

The $3.8 billion-project will travel through four states and is run by Energy Transfer Projects, bringing Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries in the fastest, most direct way possible.

Who's against the pipeline and why?

The local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of supporters from all walks of life are camped along Cannon Ball, joining the tribe to try block the construction of the pipeline. These activists call themselves 'water protectors'.

According to the Sioux tribe, the pipeline would taint drinking water, infringe on sacred sites and open up potential for a severe environmental incident. The pipeline will run under the Missouri River which supplies the tribe's drinking water.

"It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is one of the cleanest and safest river tributary left in the United States," Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II said in a statement.

Stephanie Keith / Reuters
Standing together at Standing Rock.

They also claim that permits, granted by the U.S. Army Corps Engineers in July violate "multiple federal statutes" which include the National Historic Preservation Act.

They say the approval of the pipeline was done without necessary environmental review processes and consultation of tribes. Also arguing the environmental concerns bare similarities to Keystone XL, a pipeline that was vetoed by the Obama administration.

The Standing Rock Tribe suffered a set back in September after a federal judge denied an injunction that would have frozen construction on the pipeline.

Stephanie Keith / Reuters
Cheryl Angel offers ceremonial tobacco in powerful scenes near Cannon Ball.

What's going on between the police and protesters?

Rubber bullets and water cannons have allegedly been fired at the activists from local authorities. According to The Intercept, hundreds of protesters have been injured and more than 20 have been taken to hospitals.

Neil Young and Darryl Hannah penned a letter asking President Barack Obama to do what he can to make sure authorities start to treat those protesting with decency and respect.

"Standing while being hit with water cannons, mace, tear gas, rubber bullets. Standing without weapons and praying, the water protectors endure human rights abuses in sub freezing temperatures," the letter writes.

Activists, journalists, film makers have been arrested; some have been charged after protests, including actress Shailene Woodley and filmmaker Deia Schlosberg.

Construction of part of the pipeline was halted due to the protests in September by the U.S. Justice and Interior Departments, alongside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Stephanie Keith / Reuters
A protester is detained by police in Bismarck during a protest.

What's the U.S. Government doing about it?

At the start of November, Obama said the U.S. Government was examining ways to reroute the pipeline and address concerns raised by Native American tribes, Reuters reports.

His first direct comment on the escalating violence over the Dakota Access Pipeline was made to online news site Now This.

"My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline," Obama said in the video interview.

Stephanie Keith / Reuters

What's the latest on the pipeline protests?

Hundreds of protesters camping out have until December 5 to get out. The U.S. Government plans to shut down the largest camp in North Dakota, where people continue to protest.

After recent clashes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers penned a letter about the decision to the Native American tribes -- adding there was an alternate "free speech zone" on the other side of Cannonball River.

"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area," Col. John Henderson said in a letter to tribal chairman Dave Archambault.

Despite the eviction order, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters vow to stay in the area which will put them at risk of prosecution.

Archambault said the tribe would continue to exercise its First Amendment rights to free speech and did not see the letter as a forced eviction.

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