Canada / USA - Massive oil spill fuels protests in Lakota Territory


By Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor,

Date of publication: 
28 July 2015

RAPID CITY – A massive, new spill from a bitumen pipeline in the tar-sands oil fields of Alberta, Canada’s Athabascan territory fueled a series of pipeline protests by Native Americans and allies across South Dakota, beginning July 24.

Taking part in the protests were the Yankton and Rosebud Sioux tribes, members of Indigenous Environmental Network and the No KXL Dakota Coalition, including: Dakota Rural Action, South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, BOLD Nebraska, Ihanktonwan Treaty Council, Kul Wicasa Treaty Council, Oyate Wahacanka Woecun, and many others.

They paraded a banner through the streets of Rapid City on July 24, to represent a black snake, their nickname for TransCanada Corp.‘s Keystone XL Pipeline.

On July 26 in Ft. Pierre and Pierre, they staged the Four Directions Resistance Ride, March and Rally to precede state Public Utilities Commission evidentiary hearings set for July 27 on TransCanada’s permit renewal application.

Daily pickets of the commission’s hearings were organized to follow.

The Canadian company wants to build the Keystone XL tar-sands crude-oil conduit across 314 miles of Lakota Territory, through the South Dakota counties of Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp.

In the latest tar-sands crude-oil pipeline snafu, the Chinese-owned Plains Midstream Pipeline dumped more than 1.5 million gallons of toxic diluted dilbit (diluted bitumen) south of Ft. McMurray before a leak could be stopped July 17, according to The Associated Press.

The volume of the spill surpasses that of the largest inland oil spill ever in the United States that of Enbridge oil spill, which polluted the Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, and is still the subject of cleanup efforts.

The Chinese-owned company responsible for the Ft. McMurray spill, China National Offshore Oil Corp. Ltd., is also responsible for the May 19 pipeline rupture near Santa Barbara, California, which dumped 100,000 gallons of oil, closing Pacific Ocean beaches for a month.

As the Alberta spill soon became one of the largest ever in Canada, Native Americans and landowners in the path of other potential accidents from the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline urged the Public Utilities Commission to deny TransCanada Corp.‘s application.

Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) founder Debra White Plume, one of the promoters of the actions to prevent pipeline expansion, submitted testimony to the commission, noting that all the tribes in South Dakota have said “no” to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

“Now it is your turn to say no,” she said. The line would cross many important parts of the Mississippi watershed, as well as community water supplies, she said.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), representing the people near the recent Canadian oil spill, immediately lashed out against the escalating mining and transportation of tar-sands crude-oil in its ancestral territories, including the boreal forests of Alberta.

The nation “is concerned that without addressing the current poor environmental standards coupled with increasing development in the region will only result in more spills and incidents. These types of incidents are seen as leading causes of degradation of the environment and ultimately the rights and title of First Nations in the region,” it said in a written statement calling the accident “the largest recorded spill in Canadian history of toxic water, bitumen and sand.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator and Nexen’s Long Lake Oil Sands Project, which are investigating the spill, said it flowed into a large area of mossy swamp, known as muskeg, creating concern among the First Nation population.

“A spill this size into the muskeg, which is an important part of the eco-system in the region and houses many of our medicines, berries and habitat for species our people rely on for sustenance, is extremely serious,” AFCN Chief Allan Adam stated.