Activists in North Dakota called on West Texas pipeline protesters on Tuesday to return to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, following news that the administration of President Donald Trump has cleared the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline for final construction under the Missouri River.
“This is what I was scared of,” said Frankie Orona, a West Texas camp leader and director of the San Antonio-based Society of Native Nations. “The people aren’t going to stand down. They believe if we don’t stop it now, we’re never going to be able to. I’m afraid people on both sides are going to get hurt.”
American Indians and environmental activists have fought the proposal for more than a year, drawing thousands to North Dakota camps. Elders there have said that the pipeline crosses sacred burial sites and that a leak could pollute the tribe’s drinking water. President Barack Obama, as he was leaving office, sent construction plans back to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for further review.
But on Tuesday, the Corps told Congress by letter that it will grant the easement required for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir, and finish the 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline. In the letter, the Corps said it will permit drilling as soon as Wednesday. Once completed, the pipeline will carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields to transfer stations in Illinois, and then on to Gulf Coast refineries.
As snows and cold arrived this winter, some North Dakota protesters traveled south to new camps protesting a second Energy Transfer pipeline, the Trans-Pecos, which will run from West Texas’ Permian Basin to Mexico.
On Tuesday, North Dakota leaders contacted camp leaders and asked them to send as many people as they could back north. “We sent a very large convoy before,” Orona said.
But, Mescalero Apache Pete Hefflin, a leader at the Two Rivers camp near Big Bend Ranch State Park in between Presidio and Marfa, said he wasn’t sure he could spare any bodies. Two Rivers right now only has a dozen or so on the weekdays and maybe 50 or more on weekends. Standing Rock still has hundreds, he said.
Hefflin said he has to focus on stopping the Trans-Pecos. “We have a big chance of doing it if the people come together,” he said.
For some there, West Texas is their backyard. “And they have a lot people already in Standing Rock,” he said. “I’m right here until they close the camp.”
Hefflin and Orona said the decision rests in the hands of elders from the Concho, Jumano and Lipan Apache tribes. If the seven-man council tells them to send people north, they will.
Energy Transfer declined comment.