Environment | National

Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe sounds alarm on Keystone XL

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

Concerns about drinking water pollution from TransCanada Corp.’s planned Keystone XL Pipeline prompted Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele to call a meeting with federal and corporate representatives in Rapid City, South Dakota, on September 27.

Canada’s indigenous First Nations have blocked the fossil fuel company’s previous plan to pump toxic crude-oil slurry from the tar-sands of Alberta Province to Pacific Coast shipping ports. Now TransCanada Corp. has turned to U.S. President Barack Obama for permission to build the controversial pipeline across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, in hopes of getting the product to the Gulf of Mexico via Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Yellow Bird Steele’s call came on the heels of a Rosebud Sioux Tribe Emergency Summit, Sept. 15-16, which resulted in a sign-on letter urging Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reject the request for a Presidential permit for the pipeline.

“TransCanada is trying to build the Keystone XL Pipeline through the Sioux Nation’s national 1851 and 1868 treaty territories and around existing Sioux Indian reservations in South Dakota – to avoid dealing with the Sioux tribes,” Yellow Bird Steele said in a memorandum to meeting participants.

However, he noted, the route crosses the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System core pipeline easement in two places. “Under the Mni Wiconi Act, the concurrence of the Oglala Sioux Tribe is needed before any federal agencies can approve an overlapping easement for the OSRWSS,” he stated.

He addressed the memorandum to the tribal council heads and rural water system directors at Rosebud and Lower Brule reservations, as well as to officials from the U.S. State Department, Transportation Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, and the West River/Lyman-Jones System of municipal, rural and industrial water supply.

The general public has a chance to comment on the final environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline at U.S. State Department hearings Sept. 29 in Pierre, South Dakota, and Sept. 30 in Atkinson, Nebraska. Proponents and opponents, alike, are encouraging citizens to attend or submit written remarks by an Oct. 9 deadline.

“Tar sands extraction is already wreaking havoc on indigenous communities’ land and health in Canada, and Keystone XL will extend that health burden to refinery communities in Texas where the pipeline would end,” the non-profit Friends of the Earth said in a Sept. 22 call for comments.

“What’s more,” it said, “the pipeline would be built over the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans eight states, provides drinking water to two million people, and supports $20 billion in agriculture. A spill could be catastrophic.”

After Obama gave TransCanada Corp. permission to build its Keystone I Pipeline for tar-sands crude-oil, more than a dozen toxic spills occurred in the one year of operations on its route from Alberta through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Transcanada considers the route over the Ogallala Aquifer the safest choice of all considered in the Keystone XL Pipeline environmental impact statement.

This second new pipeline would “be constructed and operated at a safety level beyond that of any existing crude oil pipeline in the United States,” a Sept. 9 company news release stated. “The pipeline would be built and operated … with a focus on protecting the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer,” it continued.

“We have listened to Nebraskans and have utilized their input to ensure Keystone XL will be built to a safety level not seen before in a pipeline in the United States and that includes selecting the right route,” said TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling.

The company is asking federal bureaus to grant a right-of-way for its easement to overlap the Sioux water line.

But, said Yellow Bird Steele, “The Oglala Sioux Tribe will not grant concurrence to … TransCanada to cross over/under the OSRWSS Core Pipeline until certain understandings and conditions are agreed to between TransCanada, the tribe and the concerned federal agencies.”

Tribal concurrence depends on federal agencies’ ability to assure that the Keystone XL Pipeline is placed below the tribal water supply line “at depths sufficient to minimize any damages that may be caused by oil and gas spills,” his memorandum stated.

He said the tribe wants compliance with all federal regulations and a management plan “that will ensure protection of the land, water, and Native American cultural resources and sacred sites within the Sioux Nation’s national boundaries.”

One of the largest and most recent toxic crude-oil spills on TransCanada’s Keystone I Pipeline was near the Lake Traverse Reservation and also must be addressed satisfactorily before the tribe consents to the additional pipeline’s easement, according to the memorandum.

It stated that tribes want a survey to determine the extent of damages from that May 7 spill on aboriginal title lands near the eastern border of North and South Dakota. They want to know about TransCanada’s responsibility for cleanup and restitution of damages to land, water and Native American cultural resources and sacred sites there.

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, which administers the Lake Traverse Reservation, had joined with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe in a 2008 lawsuit against former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for breaking treaty obligations, violating trust relationships and ignoring religious cultural protections by approving the Keystone I Pipeline.

Subsequent Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton got the case dismissed, arguing the tribes lacked jurisdiction. Now she is in charge of the environmental impact statement process for Keystone XL and of recommending permit approval or denial to Obama. They have set a December deadline for the decision.

Yellow Bird Steele’s call for the government-to-government consultation on Keystone XL came amid allegations of corporate influence-buying in Alberta Province and on the Hill. TransCanada Corp.’s former CEO Hal Kvisle was named to the Alberta government’s new tar sands environmental monitoring panel, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth released internal State Department emails on Sept. 22 that it said provided evidence of bias in the U.S. review of the proposed pipeline.

“The correspondence -- between State Department employees and TransCanada’s lead lobbyist (a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide) suggested that the agency is tipping the scales toward Big Oil in its review of this potentially devastating pipeline,” the organization said.

“Unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act request, the State Department emails demonstrate that officials gave TransCanada information about the agency’s internal thinking and coached TransCanada on what to say during the environmental review process,” it said.

EPA’s Region 6 last year commented adversely on the original Environmental Impact Statement, classifying it as “environmentally unsatisfactory and inadequate.” However, Rodham Clinton said she was “inclined” to recommend permitting it after sending the company back to the drawing board for the final statement.

At the release of that statement on Aug. 26, Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones of the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said, “There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.”

The ultimate decision depends on whether Obama considers the pipeline to be “in the national interest”. TransCanada and the Canadian government have argued the project will provide jobs and energy security to the United States.

However, tribal government chairs and presidents, traditional treaty council members, U.S. property owners and First Nation chiefs of Canada present at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Emergency Summit said they “strongly believe that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest of the United States or Canada.”

They declared a Mother Earth Accord, effective immediately, resolving to: support a moratorium on tar- sands development; insist on full consultation under the principles of “free, prior and informed consent,” as defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; urge regional authorities to halt Exxon-Imperial and ConocoPhillips highway shipments of tar-sands heavy equipment through the United States and Canada; urge the United States and Canada to reduce their reliance on oil, including tar sands, and “invest in the research and development of cleaner, safer forms of sustainable energy and transportation solutions, including smart growth, fuel efficiency, next-generation biofuels and electric vehicles powered by solar and wind energy.”

The Western Organization of Resource Councils, an umbrella for Northern Plains and Rocky Mountain area grassroots membership groups, also said it does not believe the permit would be in the national interest.

It said the State Department “refused to look at the most important safety issues, such as how to avoid spills like we’ve had in the Gulf, the Kalamazoo River, the Yellowstone River, and from TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline.

“Even if there were no safety or environmental problems, the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the national interest, because the Keystone XL pipeline is an export pipeline,” WORC said. It urged members to “Tell President Obama not to approve a pipeline that means taking land from U.S. farmers and ranchers so multinational oil companies can export more oil products overseas.

The board of directors of WORC member organization Dakota Rural Action voted to sign onto the Mother Earth Accord at their annual meeting in Rapid City on Sept. 23.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) concurred that the State Department failed to adequately study the potential consequences of a spill from the pipeline or to assess the potential risks of transporting tar sands crude oil via the pipeline. “I also believe the State Department should examine alternate routes for the Keystone XL project, to avoid the fragile Sand Hills region of the Ogallala aquifer,” he said in a letter to constituents dated Sept. 22.

TransCanada Corp. said the environmental impact statement stipulates the incorporation of 57 special conditions that “would result in a project that would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current code.”

Tar-sands oil, also known as crude bitumen, is a high-carbon fuel that causes more environmental destruction and health risks than conventional oil, according to scientists. Because it is solid and heavy, it must be combined with toxic chemicals in order to run through pipelines in a liquid slurry resistant to temperatures.

“Beyond the pipeline project, the extraction process from oil sands is detrimental to our environment, requires more energy input to produce a barrel of oil than conventional sources, and releases three times the greenhouse gas emissions,” Whitehouse said. “I believe we must focus our efforts on the development of clean and affordable sources of renewable energy that will create jobs here at home, without compromising our environment, public safety, or critical drinking water supplies.”

Protests are expected outside the State Department’s hearing venues, culminating with one at the Ronald Reagan Building of the State Department in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 7.

The South Dakota hearing was scheduled for the Best Western Ramkota, 920 West Sioux Ave., in Pierre from noon to 3:30 p.m. and from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. The Nebraska hearing is at West Holt High School, 100 N. Main Street, in Atkinson, from 4:30 to 10:00 p.m.

The State Department is accepting written comments through midnight on Oct. 9. Details about how to submit them are available on the State Department’s website at www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov

(Talli Nauman is Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Related Stories:
Native Sun News: Tribal rights at issue in Keystone XL pipeline (9/1)

Join the Conversation