Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In Defiance of the Black Snake

Police using pepper spray on Standing Rock
protesters in North Dakota on Nov 2nd
Throughout modern history images like Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a young Kim Phuc fleeing a South Vietnamese village in 1972, after having her clothes burned off her body by Napalm dropped by South Vietnamese planes, have demonstrated the power of visual media to alter public perception and government policy and law on major social issues like the Vietnam War and civil rights.

But it remains to be seen whether images like the one seen above of heavily-armed members of local law enforcement using pepper spray against unarmed protesters trying to cross a stream near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation back in early November will move the Dakota Access Pipeline's principal owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to seek an alternate route for the stretch of the pipeline that could potentially threaten the Missouri River - and the fresh water source for the Standing Rock Sioux.

Throughout Sunday night some truly disturbing images of local and state police using high-powered water cannons on unarmed demonstrators trying to cross a bridge were distributed across social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram until mainstream media finally began devoting coverage of the incident.

I watched a short video posted on Twitter of a medic who was treating injured protesters at a make-shift first-aid station at the Standing Rock camp; he said the use of water cannons had caused a number of minor injuries created when people fell trying to get away.

Standing Rock protesters being hosed by
water cannons Sunday night
He also said people were being treated after being shot by rubber bullets.

Drone footage showed some limited ariel shots of the incident, including efforts by police to used the water cannons to take out the drone to prevent footage of the confrontation from being leaked to the media.

Accounts from other medics on the scene reported that up to 200 people were injured from shrapnel from concussion grenades, bean bags fired at point blank range and symptoms of hypothermia from some protesters who were intentionally doused with water while temperatures were in the 20's - causing their clothes to freeze.

Proponents of the DAPL claim that the 1,127 mile pipeline is a safer option than rail cars to transport highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken Shelf in North Dakota down through South Dakota and Iowa to a terminal storage facility in Illinois.

But Energy Transfer Partners have offered little in the way of guarantees that the company would be financially equipped or prepared to deal with the major environmental consequences of a serious pipeline break - as a Wikipedia article reports the state of Iowa only requires pipeline owners to keep a $250,000 surety bond on hold in the event of a major spill.

Think about that.

Ruptured section of the Kalamazoo pipeline 
How far is $250,000 going to go to cover a major underground pipeline break that spills hundreds of thousands of gallons of thick, viscous Bakken crude that could threaten wildlife, farm land and fresh water supplies?

Environmental organizations estimate that at least $1 billion needs to be held in reserve to deal with a major accident.

Remember the pipeline rupture in Kalamazoo, Michigan back in 2010?

The Canadian oil company Enbridge ignored three separate reports about the six-foot section of ruptured section of pipeline that eventually spilled over a million gallons of heavy Tar Sands oil into a section of the Kalamazoo River that spilled 40 miles downstream, drenching animals and 4,435 acres of land along the river bank.

That man-made disaster cost Enbridge $1.2 billion to clean up, a $177 million settlement, it displaced over 150 families and closed sections of the Kalamazoo River for two years.

Oh and Enbridge is one of the partners in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It's pretty clear that Energy Transport Partners is basically expecting the American taxpayers to pick up the bill while they reap the profits of this $3.7 billion project; and they'll basically lawyer their way around responsibility if and when there's an accident on the 1,172 miles of the DAPL.

A consortium of 17 different global banks including Citibank, TD Securities, and BNP Paribas provided $2.5 billion in loans to finance the project; the remaining $1.2 billion was raised by ETP selling stakes in the pipeline to Phillips 66, Enbridge and Marathon Oil.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO
Kelcy Warren
The prospects of a Trump presidency aren't good for opponents of the pipeline either.

In addition to the untold number of personal business conflicts of interest presented by the president-elect's global business interests (many of which the public doesn't even know about because of his refusal to release his tax returns), the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren personally donated $103,000 to organizations that supported Trump's campaign.

According to an article posted on Democracy Now, Warren has also given thousands of dollars in political contributions to House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Energy Chair Fred Upton and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski.

Oh and ETP also has it's own PAC. Really.

So in addition to the over 71,000 miles of oil pipelines around that nation that ETP owns, thanks to the Supreme Court it also has a direct and anonymous unlimited pipeline of cash it can inject directly into a web of other conservative petroleum-friendly PACs that support Republicans who deny the existence of climate change and can't say no to Big Oil.

Trump also has investment ties with Phillips 66, and may have additional financial interests to some of the 17 banks that financed the DAPL.

It's an ethical mess of epic proportions that's going to roll right through four states.

With billions at stake for the pipeline, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to Congressional Republicans in Washington who control the environmental laws and regulations that allowed it to be built with superficial environmental impact studies, the hundreds of indigenous peoples camped out near the Standing Rock reservation have a steep hill to climb.

As Native American activist Iysukin American Horse eloquently wrote in The Guardian back in August, many of the hundreds of members of different tribes who've gathered near the Standing Rock reservation see this not as a political fight.

But as a spiritual battle to protect their source of water, their land and their way of life.

Increasingly many see this pipeline designed to transport over 400,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day as the manifestation of the apocalyptic Native American prophecy of The Black Snake - which their elders foretold would destroy their way of life if not defeated.

Considering the forces behind the pipeline and the growing power of the corporatocracy it represents, The Black Snake is a truly dangerous creature.

And as the brutal attacks by local and state police against hundreds of protesters demonstrated last night, that Snake is already trying to destroy the way of life of the Original Americans.  

Let's hope those horrific images of violent police overreach on behalf of this consortium of pipeline producers, oil companies, banks and politicians continues to turn the powerful tide of public opinion in favor of environmental and human rights, and the basic principle of Democracy on which this nation was founded.

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