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What The Pause In The Dakota Pipeline Project Means For North Dakotans


Last Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant permission for the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under the Missouri River, a decision that's stalled construction at least for now. The decision was very much welcomed by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the many activists who joined their protests, many by camping out for months in a bid to block construction.

Now, protesters had succeeded in getting more attention to their cause, but we wondered about the views of others near the pipeline route and elsewhere in North Dakota, where oil and gas is a major industry, so we called Amy Sisk of Prairie Public Broadcasting in Bismarck. Amy has been following the pipeline protest for months for Inside Energy - that is a public media collaboration that reports on energy issues - and she's with us now. Amy, thanks so much for joining us.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Thank you. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So tell us more about public opinion more broadly. Like, what were the views while the protests were going on? And what was the reaction to the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to deny the permit?

SISK: Depends who you ask. Mostly, local residents have wanted to see a final decision about whether this pipeline is going to be completed. But it doesn't look like that final decision is going to happen any time soon now that the Army Corps of Engineers is launching a much more lengthy study of the project. Now, keep in mind that North Dakota is a deeply red state, and government officials here are critical of what they see as federal overreach by the Obama administration. And they see the decision by the Corps as another example of that overreach.

Now, at the same time, there's also environmentalists in North Dakota and people who are frustrated by some of the spills that we've had from pipelines here. But North Dakota's also become very wealthy thanks to oil, so a lot of people in North Dakota are pretty OK with oil development and the infrastructure needed to transport it.

MARTIN: So construction of the pipeline is 90 percent complete. So is there really an economic impact, particularly now that oil prices are so low anyway?

SISK: A lot of the jobs that were involved in this pipeline had to do with construction, so those jobs are already finished. Now, in terms of the oil industry here, this Dakota Access Pipeline was the way that oil producers were hoping to transport oil out of state. Especially once the price of oil ticks back up, oil production in North Dakota is going to ramp back up again. It would immediately have an avenue out of state rather than having to bring in more railcars, which our state has done historically to transport oil.

MARTIN: So as we said, that the protesters have gotten more and more attention in recent months, but what about other people? What have other residents been doing during all of this time? Do they support them? Do they oppose them?

SISK: There's a bit of both here. We see various groups that are trying to organize donations for law enforcement that have been handling this protest. We're also seeing other groups that are - have been very supportive of the protesters and trying to raise supplies for them at camps.

MARTIN: You know, to that end, we heard from the Standing Rock Sioux chairman, David Archambault II last week when the news that the permit had been denied just came out. He told us that the protesters should go home now and spend the winter with their families. Are they doing that?

SISK: Yes. Many protesters are leaving. There are - there is still a contingent that is staying that say, we are committed to being here until we have an absolute guarantee that this pipeline will not go through.

MARTIN: So what's next?

SISK: What's next? Well, the Energy Transfer Partners, which is the pipeline company, they have asked a federal judge to affirm that they already have permission to drill underneath the Missouri River without this final permit from the Corps of Engineers. So we're kind of waiting to see how this plays out in court. But meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers has launched a environmental impact statement process. And that could take months or maybe even more than a year to complete.

MARTIN: That's Amy Sisk of Prairie Public Broadcasting and Inside Energy. Inside Energy is a public media collaboration focusing on energy issues. Amy, thanks so much for joining us.

SISK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered,where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy. She moved to Pennsylvania in 2017 from another energy-rich state, North Dakota, where she often reported from coal mines, wind farms and the oil patch. While there, she worked for NPR member station Prairie Public Broadcasting and the Inside Energy public media collaboration. She spent eight months following the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, her work frequently airing on NPR and other outlets. Amy loves traveling to rural communities -- she visited 217 small towns on the Dakota prairie -- and also covers rural issues here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
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