In the name of saving the environment, thousands of green activists fighting to stop the Dakota Access pipeline are making a huge mess.
Those familiar with the camps near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, increasingly are distressed over the pits of human waste and garbage pockmarking the formerly pristine prairie revered by the Standing Rock Sioux as sacred ancestral land.
Rob Keller, spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, said the protesters are “saying one thing and doing another” when it comes to safeguarding the environment.
“We’ve seen pictures of trenches and the garbage thrown in there. So that’s protecting the land?” said Mr. Keller. “And then the snow came in, and I’m sure it’s just a muddy mess now, because that’s river-bottom water, which is silt. It will be a mess.”
Even Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II, who has urged protesters to come “stand with Standing Rock” against the pipeline, is disgusted with how the environmental activists living in the camps have treated the federal property.
“Before this entire movement started, that was some of the most beautiful land around,” Mr. Archambault told the news website Vice. “There was a place down there where eagles, over 100 eagles would come and land. There were game down there — deer, pheasants, elk, geese. Now, it’s occupied by people. And when masses of people come to one place, we don’t take care of it.”
What’s especially alarming is that the camps are located in a flood plain, meaning that the waste and garbage will be carried into the Cannonball River and the water supply as the snow melts and submerges the area.
Mr. Archambault compared the environmental damage inflicted by the protesters to that of fossil fuel companies.
“We’re no different than the oil company, if we’re fighting for water,” said Mr. Archambault. “What’s going to happen when people leave? Who has to clean it up? Who has to refurbish it? It’s going to be us, the people who live here.”
National environmental groups backing the protest, including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Indigenous Environmental Network, did not respond to requests asking for comment, but Greenpeace did.
Greenpeace spokesman Perry Wheeler said the blame for any damage lies with those behind the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project, which Energy Transfer Partners is building almost entirely on private land in order to transport oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota to Illinois.
“Any environmental concerns sit at the feet of the pipeline decision-makers,” Mr. Wheeler said in an email.
After issuing an easement for a 1,100-foot stretch of federal land in North Dakota, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is stalling the project as it reviews the tribe’s concerns. The four-state pipeline is about 90 percent complete.
“The best way to ensure the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our earth are treated the right way is for the Administration to stop what should have never started,” said Mr. Wheeler.
State and local officials say they are worried about the environmental damage to the area, but there’s only so much they can do, given that the camps are on federal land.