The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (Sioux County, ND and Corson County, SD) has leased land for oil and gas exploration. The announcement of the leases was covered in the local papers in 2014. Reservation landowners came together to form a coalition with those in surrounding areas, together representing over 200,000 acres.
The history of oil and gas exploration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is not limited to the 21st century either. The tribe and its members have benefitted financially from selling mineral rights since at least the 70s. This fact is confirmed by a 1978 report co-written by representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the South Dakota Geological Survey which states:
More than 16,000 acres of tribal and allotted lands have been leased for oil and gas. Chevron Oil Co. is the major lease holder with oil and gas leases on 13,112 acres of tribal and allotted lands. Chevron’s leases on private, government, tribal, and allotted lands in Corson and Sioux Counties total approximately 380,000 acres (Griffin, 1977). These leases are for periods of 5 and 10 years and are due to expire in October 1980.
It is easy to see that not all members of the Standing Rock Sioux are in line with those unlawfully causing violent disruptions at the construction sites near the reservation. To the contrary, many individuals are hoping to let the natural resources under their land make their families better off, just like the thousands of families supported by oil jobs in the region. The long history of safe mineral exploration in the area, combined with the fact that multiple gas and oil pipelines cross the Missouri River already, shows that it is possible to have both clean water and robust energy infrastructure.
Protestors from this weekend can be seen standing just feet from a “Gas Pipeline” sign. Just below the protestors’ feet lie cables and pipelines that were also approved and constructed—yet received no such protest. Energy infrastructure in this area should not come as a surprise because it simply is not a new concept.
As the debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline continues, and protests have taken a turn for the violent in many instances, it is important to keep in mind the facts of the case. While protestors are portraying the issue as a mutually exclusive choice between having clean water or a domestically produced supply of low-cost energy (it is not), it is important to note that this vocal minority doesn’t speak for most Americans or most North Dakotans. They don’t even speak for many of the Native Americans living in the area.