Whistle-Blower Reveals 'Startling' Construction Problems at North Dakota Gas Plants Where Massive Spill Was Downplayed
By Justin Nobel
Two North Dakota gas processing plants in the heart of the Bakken oil fields have shown signs of an eroded safety culture and startling construction problems, according to Paul Lehto, a 54-year-old former gas plant operator who has come out as a whistle-blower.
He described worrisome conditions at the Lonesome Creek plant, in Alexander, and the Garden Creek plant, in Watford City, where DeSmog recently revealed one of the largest oil and gas industry spills in U.S. history had occurred. Both plants process natural gas brought via pipeline from Bakken wells and are run by the Oklahoma-based oil and gas service company, ONEOK Partners.
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Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, has missed its 2018 deadline to plant tens of thousands of trees along the pipeline's route, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The company was supposed to plant 20,000 trees along the pipeline's 359-mile route through North Dakota by the end of 2018, as per the terms of a September 2017 settlement with North Dakota's Public Service Commission. So far, it has planted only around 8,800.
The settlement came about because of two major complaints, The Associated Press reported in 2017:
- Energy Transfer Partners failed to adequately report the discovery of Native American artifacts along its route. The artifacts were not disturbed, but the company did not get permission from the commission for a route change.
- Regulators were concerned that the company had disturbed too many trees and improperly removed soil while laying pipe.
In the settlement, Energy Transfer Partners agreed to plant trees in soil conservation districts along the route and help write a "how-to" manual for handling the discovery of artifacts, but it did not have to pay a $15,000 fine or payment, as regulators originally proposed.
"This really is not as much about the monetary amount as it is about awareness and influencing future behavior," Commissioner Brian Kroshus said at the time.
Now, Energy Transfer Partners is relying on a provision in the settlement allowing it more time to plant the trees if it encounters difficulties. Perennial Environmental Services, the company Energy Transfer Partners hired to manage the tree planting, said it had run into the following problems:
- Equipment and staffing problems
- Poor conditions for planting
- A lack of landlords willing to have trees planted on their land
- An incident in which one soil conservation district refused any plantings because it didn't think the 15 tree species listed in the settlement were appropriate for the area
Perennial Environmental Services said soil conservation districts in six counties had committed to planting 16,800 trees in 2019 for a total of more than 25,500. Commission officials were not available for comment on whether or not they thought the delay was justified, The Associated Press reported.
The Dakota Access Pipeline sparked massive protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their allies over concerns it would threaten the tribe's drinking water. The protests seemed to have been successful when the administration of former President Barack Obama denied a key permit for the project towards the end of 2016, but President Donald Trump signed an executive order greenlighting the pipeline early in his term.Oil began flowing through the pipeline in June of 2017, which was projected to move around 520,000 barrels of oil a day along more than 1,000 miles through North Dakota to Illinois, NPR reported at the time.
Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A Fairy Tale, Say the Standing Rock Sioux… https://t.co/Fqls80RPxQ— Indigenous (@Indigenous)1527197400.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Justin Mikulka
2018 was the year the oil and gas industry promised that its darling, the shale fracking revolution, would stop focusing on endless production and instead turn a profit for its investors. But as the year winds to a close, it's clear that hasn't happened.
Instead, the fracking industry has helped set new records for U.S. oil production while continuing to lose huge amounts of money—and that was before the recent crash in oil prices.
But plenty of people in the industry and media make it sound like a much different, and more profitable, story.
Broken Promises and Record Production
Going into this year, the fracking industry needed to prove it was a good investment (and not just for its CEOs, who are garnering massive paychecks).
In January, The Wall Street Journal touted the prospect of frackers finally making "real money … for the first time" this year. "Shale drillers are heeding growing calls from investors who have chastened the companies for pumping ever more oil and gas even as they incur losses doing so," oil and energy reporter Bradley Olson wrote.
Olson's story quoted an energy asset manager making the (always) ill-fated prediction about the oil and gas industry that this time will be different.
"Is this time going to be different? I think yes, a little bit," said energy asset manager Will Riley. "Companies will look to increase growth a little, but at a more moderate pace."
Despite this early optimism, Bloomberg noted in February that even the Permian Basin—"America's hottest oilfield"—faced "hidden pitfalls" that could "hamstring" the industry.
They were right. Those pitfalls turned out to be the ugly reality of the fracking industry's finances.
And this time was not different.
On the edge of the Permian in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported the industry is "on pace this year to leap past last year's record oil production," according to Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. And yet that oil has at times been discounted as much as $20 a barrel compared to world oil prices because New Mexico doesn't have the infrastructure to move all of it.
Who would be foolish enough to produce more oil than the existing infrastructure could handle in a year when the industry promised restraint and a focus on profits? New Mexico, for one. And North Dakota. And Texas.
In North Dakota, record oil production resulted in discounts of $15 per barrel and above due to infrastructure constraints.
Texas is experiencing a similar story. Oilprice.com cites a Goldman Sachs prediction of discounts "around $19-$22 per [barrel]" for the fourth quarter of 2018 and through the first three quarters of next year.
Oil producers in fracking fields across the country seem to have resisted the urge to reign in production and instead produced record volumes of oil in 2018. In the process—much like the tar sands industry in Canada—they have created a situation where the market devalues their oil. Unsurprisingly, this is not a recipe for profits.
Shale Oil Industry 'More Profitable Than Ever' — Or Is It?
However, Reuters recently analyzed 32 fracking companies and declared that "U.S. shale firms are more profitable than ever after a strong third quarter." How is this possible?
Reading a bit further reveals what Reuters considers "profits."
"The group's cash flow deficit has narrowed to $945 million as U.S. benchmark crude hit $70 a barrel and production soared," reported Reuters.
So, "more profitable than ever" means that those 32 companies are running a deficit of nearly $1 billion. That does not meet the accepted definition of profit.
A separate analysis released earlier this month by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and The Sightline Institute also reviewed 32 companies in the fracking industry and reached the same conclusion: "The 32 mid-size U.S. exploration companies included in this review reported nearly $1 billion in negative cash flows through September."
NINE-YEAR LOSING STREAK CONTINUES FOR US FRACKING SECTOR Oil and gas output is rising but cash losses keep flowing… https://t.co/hKBSk8v5rV— 💧Carly Woodstock (@💧Carly Woodstock)1544396672.0
The numbers don't lie. Despite the highest oil prices in years and record amounts of oil production, the fracking industry continued to spend more than it made in 2018. And somehow, smaller industry losses can still be interpreted as being "more profitable than ever."
The Fracking Industry's Fuzzy Math
One practice the fracking industry uses to obfuscate its long money-losing streak is to change the goal posts for what it means to be profitable. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted this practice, writing: "Claims of low 'break-even' prices for shale drilling hardly square with frackers' bottom lines."
The industry likes to talk about low "break-even" numbers and how individual wells are profitable—but somehow the companies themselves keep losing money. This can lead to statements like this one from Chris Duncan, an energy analyst at Brandes Investment Partners:
"You always scratch your head as to how they can have these well economics that can have double-digit returns on investment, but it never flows through to the total company return."
The explanation is pretty simple: Shale companies are not counting many of their operating expenses in the "break-even" calculations. Convenient for them, but highly misleading about the economics of fracking because factoring in the costs of running one of these companies often leads those so-called profits from the black and into the red.
The Wall Street Journal explains the flaw in the fracking industry's questionable break-even claims: "break-evens generally exclude such key costs as land, overhead and even at times transportation."
Other tricks, The Wall Street Journal notes, include companies only claiming the break-even prices of their most profitable land (known in the industry as "sweet spots") or using artificially low costs for drilling contractors and oil service companies.
While the mystery of fracking industry finances appears to be solved, the mystery of why oil companies are allowed to make such misleading claims remains.
The US shale / fracking formula... 1.) borrow billions at low interest rates 2.) lose money forcing oil & gas from… https://t.co/FSuGXzcKN5— Ryan Popple (@Ryan Popple)1540411935.0
Wall Street Continues to Fund an Unsustainable Business Model
Why does the fracking industry continue to receive more investments from Wall Street despite breaking its "promises" this year?
Because that is how Wall Street makes money. Whether fracking companies are profitable or not doesn't really matter to Wall Street executives who are getting rich making the loans that the fracking industry struggles to repay.
An excellent example of this is the risk that rising interest rates pose to the fracking industry. Even shale companies that have made profits occasionally have done so while also amassing large debts. As interest rates rise, those companies will have to borrow at higher rates, which increases operating costs and decreases the likelihood that shale companies losing cash will ever pay back that debt.
Continental Resources, one of the largest fracking companies, is often touted as an excellent investment. Investor's Business Daily recently noted that "[w]ithin the Oil & Gas-U.S. Exploration & Production industry, Continental is the fourth-ranked stock with a strong 98 out of a highest-possible 99 [Investor's Business Daily] Composite Rating."
And yet when Simply Wall St. analyzed the company's ability to pay back its over $6 billion in debt, the stock market news site concluded that Continental isn't well positioned to repay that debt. However, it noted "[t]he sheer size of Continental Resources means it is unlikely to default or announce bankruptcy anytime soon." For frackers, being at the top of the industry apparently means being too big to fail.
As interest rates rise, common sense might suggest that Wall Street would rein in its lending to shale companies. But when has common sense applied to Wall Street?
The Chronicle notes the epic money-losing streak for the industry and how fracking bankruptcies have already ended up "stiffing lenders and investors on more than $70 billion in outstanding loans."
So, is the party over?
Not according to Katherine Spector, a research scholar at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. She explains how Wall Street will reconcile investing in these fracking firms during a period of higher interest rates: "Banks are going to make more money [through higher interest rates], so they're going to want to get more money out the door."
How Wall Street Enabled the Fracking 'Revolution' That's Losing Billions https://t.co/oSsJmEiAa7 @FrackAction @foodandwater— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525743905.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Follow the DeSmog investigative series: Finances of Fracking: Shale Industry Drills More Debt Than Profit
By Sharon Kelly
Roughly four years ago, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) filed a federal application to build a 1,172 mile oil pipeline from North Dakota's Bakken shale across the U.S. to Illinois at a projected cost of $3.8 billion.
Before that application was filed, on Sept. 30, 2014, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe met with ETP to express concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) and fears of water contamination. Though the company, now known as Energy Transfer, had re-routed a river crossing to protect the state capital of Bismarck against oil spills, it apparently turned a deaf ear to the Tribe's objections.
Following that approach proved to be a very costly decision, a new analysis concludes, with ETP, banks, and investors taking billions in losses as a result.
"This case study estimates that the costs incurred by ETP and other firms with ownership stake in DAPL for the entire project are not less than $7.5 billion, but could be higher depending on the terms of confidential contracts," a new report, "Social Cost and Material Loss: The Dakota Access Pipeline," concludes, noting that the figure represented nearly double the initial project cost. "The banks that financed DAPL incurred an additional $4.4 billion in costs in the form of account closures, not including costs related to reputational damage."
In addition, the company's "poor social risk management" caused taxpayers and "other local stakeholders" to incur at least $38 million in costs, the report concludes.
"This is what it's all about," protestor says. "Sacred water." Not sure guys on left agree. #NoDAPL #DAPL https://t.co/vHPRC2OHU5— Wes Enzinna (@Wes Enzinna)1477599122.0
As opposition to DAPL grew from a handful of locals to a movement attracting thousands of supporters to Standing Rock and backers worldwide, construction fell behind schedule and over budget, with costs rising from a predicted $3.8 billion to at least $7.5 billion, the new report finds. Over that time, Energy Transfer's stock price fell 20 percent—at the same time as the tech investment index S&P 500 grew roughly 35 percent, the report noted. Energy Transfer's stock also underperformed other companies in the same industry.
"Across the board, this project was out of line with the existing principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international standards for resource development near indigenous peoples' lands," Carla F. Fredericks, author of the study and director of Colorado Law's American Indian Law Clinic, said. "The losses in this study underline that companies need to take those principles into account."
Making a 'Material Loss'
The study points to early decisions by ETP as the cause of those losses.
"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe communicated their opposition to DAPL for three years and they were frustrated by the lack of meaningful consultation from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), DAPL's parent company, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)," Fredericks, an enrolled citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, and co-author Mark Meaney of the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business wrote. "In fact, those opportunities for early engagement were ETP's, the USACE's and other investors' missed opportunities to understand the developing social risks that subsequently manifested into intense social conflict and ultimately resulted in material loss."
US / indigenous rights: @UNSR_VickyTauli urges consistent policies for projects like Dakota Access Pipeline https://t.co/fVdVZtcsnG— UN Human Rights (@UN Human Rights)1488560268.0
When it comes to human rights issues, the report's authors dismiss the notion that a company's management can adequately protect shareholders from losses or liability if they use compliance with state and federal laws as their only benchmark.
"Unfortunately, the companies and financiers behind DAPL presumed that compliance with national laws was sufficient for the project to move forward on Sioux territory rather than abiding by international human rights standards," the report finds. "Their lack of attention ultimately resulted in material loss."
The report faults Energy Transfer's management specifically for failing to disclose risks of costly delays due to public opposition to investors at an earlier stage.
"In this case, ETP's reporting concerning the project was silent or exclusively positive until the publication of its third quarterly report on Nov. 9, 2016, in which the company acknowledged that 'protests and legal actions against DAPL have caused construction delays and may further delay the completion of the pipeline project,'" the report finds. "By this time, social pressure had been mounting for months and there is evidence that the company knew of these risks long before they were disclosed to investors."
"The timeline shows that ETP made few good faith efforts to understand and integrate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's concerns about the environmental, social, and cultural risks into their operations and that ETP did not disclose known risks to investors until a later date," it adds. "As a result, investors were not aware of the potential for delays and it is possible that this resulted in the overvaluation of ETP's stock price."
It wasn't only ETP's investors that suffered an economic blow due to DAPL. Reported account closures at banks that funded the DAPL project totaled $4.4 billion, including 150,000 personal bank account closures worth $86.2 million, with the remainder coming from city divestments.
"It is reasonable to suggest that the degree of public criticism directed towards banks—relative to the size of the transaction—was greater than expected and was underestimated during the banks' own review of the project's viability," the report says.
DAPL is now flowing oil—but legal battles continue. In early November, Energy Transfer announced that it would seek to expand DAPL's capacity from 525,000 barrels per day to 570,000 barrels a day, spurred by growing oil production from North Dakota's Bakken shale.
The DAPL fight is far from over. Lawsuits and criminal prosecutions of pipeline opponents now include a federal class action filed by five plaintiffs against private security firm TigerSwan and state and county officials, alleging that the defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by closing public roads for prolonged periods in 2016 to 2017, part of an effort to quiet resistance to the DAPL project.
As DeSmog previously reported, the lawsuit "also alleged that, beyond impeding access to sacred grounds for the self-proclaimed 'Water Protectors'—the term also used by [plaintiffs' attorneys] Smith-Drelich and Harcourt in their complaint—the blockade imposed by government and law enforcement did not impact those who lived in the area or employees of Energy Transfer."
Separately, Sophia Wilansky, who was shot three times by rubber bullets and suffered severe arm and hand injuries from what she alleges was a police "flashbang" grenade at Backwater Bridge on Nov. 20, 2016, filed a lawsuit against Morton County law enforcement and other agencies this month. And more than 700 criminal cases brought against the pipeline opponents known as water protectors have been processed, with NPR reporting that "[m]any have had their charges reduced or dismissed."
In November, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe challenged the adequacy of the Army Corps of Engineers' environmental review of DAPL, arguing that the Corps' assessment of the risks, particularly the risk of an oil spill in Lake Oahe, which is on Sioux land, fell short of required standards and disregarded technical information provided by the Tribe to the Corps.
In July, federal judge Billy Roy Wilson partially dismissed a racketeering lawsuit that was initially filed in August 2017 by ETP against nonprofits Greenpeace and BankTrack, as well as the environmental movement EarthFirst! (as represented by the publishers of a magazine of a similar name).
"While the complaint vaguely attempts to connect BankTrack to acts of 'radical eco-terrorist,' an international drug distribution and money laundering enterprise, and violations of the Patriot Act, BankTrack's actual conduct in this case was allegedly writing a few letters to financial institutions and posting links to the letters on its website," Wilson wrote in a July ruling dismissing claims against BankTrack.
In August, after a ruling that EarthFirst! is an environmental movement too amorphous to be named to a lawsuit and that suing the magazine would be "futile and possibly frivolous," ETP added five individual defendants to its lawsuit, including a Greenpeace staffer.
A proposed new Bakken pipeline, dubbed the Liberty Pipeline, was recently announced by Phillips 66 and Bridger Pipeline LLC. That pipeline would move 350,000 barrels a day of fracked oil from the Bakken shale to Corpus Christi, Texas, near major export terminals.
The authors of the new report had advice for companies contemplating building new pipeline projects or investing in them.
"These losses show how important it is for companies to fully account for environmental, social, and governance risks before projects get going," Meaney said in a statement accompanying the report. "Social risks are clearly overlooked in the market."
#EnergyTransfer's Troubled Pipeline Projects Amass 800+ Violations https://t.co/4dRWiI7JdV @PeopleNotPipes @nokxlpledge— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543795235.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
- Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A ... ›
- Investors Want Companies to Disclose Environmental Risk - EcoWatch ›
A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.
Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.
The pipeline is part of a gathering system owned by Dallas-based oil and gas producer Petro-Hunt LLC, which discovered the leak on Wednesday.
Bill Suess with the North Dakota Department of Health told Grand Forks Herald they were able to stop the produced water from reaching a nearby dry creek bed.
Fossil fuel explorations and operations produce an incredible amount of wastewater. Oil and gas reservoirs often contain water, which is brought to the surface along with the hydrocarbons. The fracking process itself also involves large quantities of chemically laden water being shot at high pressures into shale. Once fracking is done, much of the fracking fluid comes back up the well as "flowback" wastewater.
The cause of the leak is now under investigation. The North Dakota health department has investigated the site and will continue monitoring the investigation and remediation.
Walter Roach, vice president of Petro-Hunt, told the Bismark Tribune that its workers responded quickly to the spill and the company is committed to the clean up.
"We want to get it taken care of as quickly as possible," Roach said.
Pipeline Spills More Than 8,000 Gallons of Jet Fuel Into #IndianaRiver #pipelines @Defenders @foe_us @XiuhtezcatlM… https://t.co/C64pHa8hKf— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1536591972.0
By Liz Blood
A little over a year ago, Morgun Frejo, a member of the Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Navajo nations, began camping at Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. The Missouri River is sacred to both his Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria tribes and Frejo recalls elders in both tribes telling him stories of its importance as a child.
He lived at Standing Rock from mid-August 2016 to late February 2017, just before the camp was evicted and closed by the National Guard and local law enforcement.
Tom Goldtooth: 'They Cannot Extinguish the Fire That #StandingRock Started' https://t.co/dVzhsGhjKZ @IENearth @StandingRockST @MarkRuffalo— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487945021.0
When I first saw Frejo, he was working camp security at the main gate—informing people no weapons or alcohol were allowed in the camp. Occasionally, security volunteers were asked to close the gate, or only let in a certain amount of people. They also escorted people out of camp when needed, and walked with participants in the marches.
"The main focus was the safety of everyone participating in a march," said Frejo. "So, we acted as a kind of wall between the people there and the cops, to make sure no one on our side started anything, like an agitator. We made sure we were there in unity. There would be some people who went to a march ready to be pepper-sprayed. Masked up, not showing skin, looking suspicious—when everyone else would be moms, children, elders, people in their regular clothes."
In September 2016, Frejo was arrested, along with his uncle and several others. The police had pictures of Frejo walking away from some construction material with equipment that he could have used to lock himself to it. He was charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespassing, conspiracy to commit reckless endangerment (a class C felony), and conspiracy to obstruct government function. Morgun maintains he never locked himself to any machinery. His court date was scheduled for August 18, but the charges were dropped a few days before he was scheduled to appear.
I met Frejo when I was reporting on Standing Rock for The Tulsa Voice. He was tight-lipped that day; he didn't seem to care to talk to me or the photographer accompanying me. The acquaintances who introduced us said Frejo had been a lot of help working security at camp.
One night in November, not long after I returned home from Standing Rock, a helicopter circled the area of Tulsa that I live in. My eyes snapped open in the dark. I lay there anxious. I thought of the people still camped in the cold by the river. They experienced that every single night, for most hours of the night, for months on end. Floodlights poured into camp, helicopters and small planes circled over it—intimidation and sleep deprivation tactics. I was there only two nights. How would any of them feel when they ever heard a helicopter at night again?
When I heard that Frejo had returned to Oklahoma after Standing Rock was shut down, I wanted to ask if he was open to speaking to me. He was the only person I knew of who had been there for nearly the entire arc of the camp. What the rest of the world watched transpire on poor cell phone videos and in Facebook updates he had experienced in person.
Frejo and I talked about what was life changing—good and bad—about Standing Rock, what changed while he was there, and what survives after the physical camp is gone.
LIZ BLOOD: Over the time you were at Standing Rock, between August 2016 and February 2017, how did you see the camp change?
MORGUN FREJO: I saw a lot change. The first sight of it, all the teepees and the camps … it was a beautiful sight to see all those tribes and nations come together. The grass was like up to above our knees and a little lawnmower was going around camp so people could make little camps. Towards the end of that month into September I was seeing more and more people coming, seeing different areas being occupied by different tribes.
Then there was the incident when they dug up those graves over the hill from camp. That was one of the first turning points. We had heard they can't go there, they can't bulldoze there, that they were still getting their papers. They were told there were burial sites up there. But they went up there and tore it all up.
A few of us jumped over the fence. My uncle got taken down by one of the security guards; that's when everyone just kind of rushed in, to not only protect him but just push off the workers there. I remember walking where they turned up the ground. A bunch of the worker's trucks were stuck in that mud. People started surrounding them and telling them to leave. One guy almost hit a woman. He got stuck and gunned it and almost hit her.
I was right behind the first row of people just going face to face with those dogs. The way the handlers were using them, they were trying to attack us. I wasn't surprised or scared—it was almost calming. I felt like I'd been in that situation before, but I never have in my life. I talked to others and my uncle about it and he said it's in our genetics—it's in our DNA because of when our ancestors went through it. The best way I can describe is the colonizers, they had dogs. They terrorized villages. They used dogs to attack people. That experience is embedded along with all of the other tragedies and misfortune we've been dealt. We've been dealing with this for hundreds of years. So even though we were scared, we were comfortable.
Then, in October, there were more people in camp. There were more police. They were militarized. I won't say they were antagonizing us but they knew where to push our buttons, not as individuals but like as a camp, also.
Camp shifted the day north camp got raided. A lot of people got arrested. That camp was treaty land that was promised to the tribe. That's why people moved up there. But where that was also a protected route for the pipeline, so it was also a blockade camp.
They rounded those people up like cattle—pulling them out of their teepees. I had family that got arrested there. Some got pulled out of a prayer circle. A lot of their sacred items got desecrated. It's saddening to know how Martin County and whoever else handled what is held sacred and precious. I heard stories of them desecrating it with urine, dumping it all on the ground as if it was already trash.
When Thanksgiving came around, that's when it started getting colder. Month by month, what I noticed personally, was the spirituality—people were coming for the wrong reasons.
BLOOD: This was a change you were seeing?
FREJO: Yeah. Why I went there was for that water, you know, because that water is us, we are that water. We are made of it. I wanted to go there and pray with that water because not only is the Missouri a powerful river—but me, as a Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria Indian in Oklahoma—that same river that flows up north flows through here. It's a sacred river to us, too.
But some that came for that call they put out—we need more people, we need more bodies, come stand on the front line, show your support that way—that's when the mentality of camp teetered. Before it was about spirituality, listening to the elders, following a protocol of being visitors, respecting their tribe.
Then it goes to we have to stop this pipeline. That was always the goal but spirituality was a main factor. It turned into yelling on the front lines, calling cops names, pigs, cussing them out. Before October, there was none of that.
There was chanting of Mni Wiconi, you know, water is life. Spirituality, prayers and singing. Then to have to wear a ballistic vest, or walk up with a plastic shield, or goggles and a face mask so you won't get sprayed in your face with mace or a rubber bullet, you know. People were saying Morton County had the OK to use live rounds, live ammo—instead of pepper spray. That's what was being spread around the front line. I think that's when people started bringing in ballistic vests. Being on those front lines, just being there, made you a target. It wasn't about being ready to take them on, it was about being ready for whatever they were going to do.
The spirituality of it was lost more and more in the sight of the people that were there. That's one of the major changes I saw. It was a lot of factors … the police escalating things, us, or certain individuals in camp that took it upon themselves to think that they were doing something justly. The cold coming in, elders leaving—or elders going so they could stay safe, you know. I think most of the camp wasn't fully prepared for winterizing.
BLOOD: How are you dealing with not being there—a place where everyone was there for, if not the same, at least a similar reason?
FREJO: It's an adjustment. It's a big adjustment. Just yesterday me and my girlfriend were cooking and she mentioned it to me. She was like, "I miss that propane"—like the smell of propane, having to make sure if the tank was empty to change it out. And having a big camp bonfire, like a campfire any night or any moment for no reason. I miss it a lot. Not only focusing on like stopping the pipeline but just being there, being unified with other people for the same cause of clean water. Everyone there not judging. We knew what we were doing and we weren't distracted.
BLOOD: This is something that, when you're just out experiencing the world now, you flash back to?
FREJO: Yeah, it's like a—it's a form of PTSD. When I was up there I got arrested, me and my uncle, and we went through our own trauma up there.
I've talked to my grandpa, who served in Vietnam. He went through crazy things. He was MIA for a while as a POW, and he escaped. After I got arrested, I went back home for a couple of weeks in October and I was talking to him and he said, "What you went through, a normal citizen that wouldn't happen to. What you went through, you're basically a warrior, a soldier now."
The way I did it is kind of frowned upon in my family's eyes because I went to jail. But they understand. They also shifted to see me as a man. They said it was good and bad. And it was along the lines of what would give you PTSD. He told me it wasn't like what he did, but it was affecting me, taking a toll.
Even seeing a small airplane or helicopter kind of makes me uneasy, but at the same time I miss that sound because we heard it all day and all night at that camp. One of the major things that used to kind of get me was the sound of a drum, hearing that outside of camp brought up a lot of feelings.
I'm still working through my own things. From talking to other people that were up there, it's not only things like that that trigger, it's that feeling of loneliness or depression … not feeling useful or having a purpose anymore because at camp everyone had a purpose.
BLOOD: So even the feeling can then be triggering. Is that what you're saying?
FREJO: Yeah. That's what hits me personally and some others that I know … that everyone's just kind of feeling useless or empty or just alone like no one understands. I still deal with the depression of missing camp, not knowing how to deal with society.
My anxiety builds up over time and sometimes hits me a lot, like for a night. That feeling of being paranoid. I try not to be mad at myself for feeling like that. I think, I'm out of camp so I shouldn't feel like this anymore. But I'm starting to realize every person who went to camp, no matter what they heard or saw or experienced—we won't fully heal from that, because we're still feeling what our ancestors felt. It's like coming to terms and being at peace, and understand all that, to try to find a healthy way to let it go or deal with it.
Just about every time I open up Facebook, you know, I'm seeing someone that I know from camp posting about what they're going through and they're wondering if everyone else or anyone else feels like that. It's an epidemic that we all have. Everything that happened up there takes a toll and it's gonna take time to heal.
Thinking about it now, it's crazy to think about two or three days of not really eating, drinking, or barely sleeping. I reflect and know I did that for the right reasons. I wasn't out partying or going on a bender. I wasn't thinking about eating or drinking water, either, but when I did I loaded up because I didn't know when the next time would be. But I didn't worry about it, either.
You know, what I was a part of up there in Standing Rock, it woke up the world. There's other camps everywhere now. There's people taking on big oil companies. There's marches. There's rallies. People are waking up to what has been happening here in Oklahoma for over a decade.
BLOOD: Where are you at right now?
FREJO: I'm working on myself—emotionally, physically and spiritually, and knowing what I can do and when I can do it. I know that, how many people have seen the light on what's going on and what's happening. It's an amazing feeling to know that there's so many people, not only in the U.S., but all over the world, that come up with inventions or a new way to get away from fossil fuels. I feel small but at the same time I'm part of something way bigger.
I have to take a step back. I know that I can't do much or I can't do what I truly want until I know that me and what I hold dear to me are ready. So I'm kind of keeping an eye on everything, but at the same time trying to take time for myself to make sure I heal and just be ready for whatever opportunities I have in the future.
BLOOD: How are people who are now gone from camp continuing to support each other?
FREJO: Keeping in touch with other protectors or other people from camp. I think that's one of the major ones. A lot of them are … just continuing the fight, going wherever they can or showing support where they can. I think a lot of them are trying to keep that momentum. But it's really hard because just that feeling of, you know, no on will understand. No one gets it.
But at the same time, it's up to the individual to either reach out or accept someone trying to support them … I know what else is out there. When they don't take that road they go to self comforting, what they know. It could be alcohol, drugs, self harm or harming others. That's a big problem, too, because a lot of natives, not only on reservations or in a small town, sometimes where we live, it's just overbearing. It's depressing … there's a lot of suicides. Just that hope, you know, of what it was like in camp. And then you go back to where you're from and there are people that, you know, they're like, "Why'd you go up there?" That doesn't involve us. It's really rough.
But as water protectors, and as a human race—have that compassion of reaching out to someone. They may look like they're having a good time or they're enjoying themselves but who knows what they're feeling on the inside … they could have a whole story that no one knows about.
Here, I walk to the gas station, or Wal-Mart, or the store and no one makes eye contact. They've got their ear buds in. No one wants to give you the time of day to look at you. But at Standing Rock man, you'd wake up, get out of your tent, someone's walking by—hey, good morning, how you doing? Even when everybody just woke up … you could walk around camp and someone would offer you coffee and you'd sit there and get to know them.
That's a major difference I'm still trying to get used to. Because before Standing Rock I was like that, you know, I wouldn't look at people. I'd just do what I had to do and then leave … but after Standing Rock I look at people, I'll give 'em like a little nod and be like, "Hey, how ya doin?"
That little interaction of just saying hi or smiling at someone, you know? Maybe they're going through a rough day. I know when someone does that back I feel better. I like seeing someone else smile. Maybe they'll do it to the next person. Just that little happiness makes the world a little bit better.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.
Pipeline Developer Distances Itself From Private Security Firm That Operated During the NoDAPL Protests
Last week, a governor-appointed security board revealed TigerSwan had been operating in North Dakota during the NoDAPL protests after being denied a license, and sued to block the company's work in the state and seek administrative fines.
Groups in Iowa are now investigating whether TigerSwan also operated without a license in their state during the protests. Documents leaked to The Intercept in May revealed that ETP hired TigerSwan, which was originally founded as a State Department contractor working to "execute the war on terror," to conduct counterterrorism measures on activists, including aerial surveillance on protesters, infiltrating activist groups and developing "counter-information" campaigns.
Must Read @ecowatch: Leaked Documents Expose Military Tactics Used to Defeat Pipeline 'Terrorists' at Standing Rock https://t.co/dV6L51fqr0— Josh Fox (@Josh Fox)1496167621.0
It was also reported by DeSmogBlog Wednesday that Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, who chairs the advisory board for TigerSwan, led intelligence efforts for the task force which brought more than 10,000 U.S. military troops to police the 1992 riots following the acquittal of Los Angeles police involved in beating Rodney King.
In addition, Marks, a long-time military analyst for CNN, led intelligence-gathering efforts for the U.S. military's 2003 "shock and awe" campaign in Iraq, which was dubbed "Operation Iraqi Liberation."
According to DeSmogBlog:
In recent months, Marks has endorsed Dakota Access and its southern leg, the Bayou Bridge pipeline. He has shown this support by writing op-ed pieces published in various newspapers and on the website of a pro-Dakota Access coalition run by a PR firm funded by Energy Transfer Partners.
For a deeper dive:
Energy companies say that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, but a number of recent spills plague the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which could start service as soon as May 14.
KCET environment editor Chris Clarke calculated that in the year ending on May 1, 2017, North Dakota's oil and gas industry reported 745 involved oil spills—that averages to a spill every 11 hours and 45 minutes.
The figure was based on data from North Dakota's Department of Health. The spills range in size, from smaller 20-gallons spills to ones that are much larger.
Just two weeks ago, a Continental Resources pipeline in western North Dakota spilled an estimated 756 gallons of oil and 294 gallons of saltwater, a drilling byproduct, into a tributary of the Little Missouri River. Continental Resources, the largest operator in the Bakken shale formation, leads North Dakota in active wells, spills of all kinds, and wastewater or brine spills.
And in December, a ruptured Belle Fourche pipeline spilled 529,830 gallons of oil, contaminating a hillside and Ash Coulee Creek which empties into the Little Missouri River. The break was significant because it happened less than 200 miles away from the Oceti Sakowin Camp, where the Standing Rock Sioux and fellow Water Protectors were protesting the DAPL.
"Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)"
Energy Transfer Partners, DAPL's lead developer, recently announced that directional drilling under Lake Oahe, a large reservoir behind Oahe Dam on the Missouri River, is complete. The Standing Rock Sioux worry that a leak could contaminate the river, a major source of the tribe's drinking water.
Energy Transfer Partners insists that the risk of water contamination is low since the pipeline runs deep beneath the lake and has installed leak detection systems. Proponents also say that energy infrastructure projects are important for both U.S. economic and energy security interests.
But spills are a major risk. Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco are behind hundreds of thousands of gallons of spills from pipelines between 2015 and 2016, according to a February report from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and DisasterMap.net.
The companies have filed 69 accidents over the past two years to the National Response Center, the federal contact point for oil spills and industrial accidents.
And last month, Energy Transfer Partners' new Rover Pipeline spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio's wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project began a few weeks before the spill occurred.
A pipeline in western North Dakota spilled an estimated 756 gallons of oil and 294 gallons of saltwater, a drilling byproduct, into a tributary of the Little Missouri River, the Associated Press reports.
The spill was discovered April 22, approximately 5 miles southwest of the city of Marmarth and was reported that same day, the North Dakota Department of Health announced. The spill originated from a buried three-inch pipeline operated by Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources.
The spill polluted a 14-mile stretch of Little Beaver Creek but did not reach the larger waterway.
"At the time of the release there was a high-enough flow in the Little Missouri that it was actually pushing water back up into Little Beaver Creek, so that prevented any from getting into the Little Missouri," Health Department environmental scientist Bill Suess explained to the AP.
Suess said that the cause of the leak is unknown, with excavation work still underway. More than three-fourths of the discharge has been cleaned up as of Sunday.
He added that the thick consistency of the oil causes it to clump together in the water and form balls that float down the river, making it "pretty easy to collect."
There were no immediate indications of damage to wildlife or livestock, the AP said.
"Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)"
Continental Resources, the largest operator in the Bakken shale formation, leads North Dakota in active wells, spills of all kinds, and wastewater or brine spills, InsideEnergy noted from the Times report.
Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, is an outspoken Donald Trump supporter and discussed with Bloomberg in January his hopes for energy industry regulations rollbacks under the Trump administration and the prospect of U.S. oil independence and increased shale oil drilling.
EcoWatch has covered a number of pipeline spills already this month. The Buffalo Pipeline, owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, L.P., leaked approximately 450 barrels, or roughly 18,900 gallons, of crude oil onto farmland in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma last week. A busted pipeline spilled crude oil into a Strathcona County creek in Alberta, Canada on Saturday. And in mid-April, Energy Transfer Partners' new Rover Pipeline, which is still under construction, spilled 2 millions of gallon of drilling fluids into two of Ohio's wetlands.
The amount of crude oil that spewed near Belfield, North Dakota from the ruptured Belle Fourche pipeline in December was vastly underestimated.
The original estimate was around 176,000 gallons of oil. After further review, pipeline operator True Companies now reports about 12,615 barrels (529,830 gallons) of oil spilled, spokeswoman Wendy Owen told Inforum. The cause of the leak has not been determined.
The spill contaminated a hillside and Ash Coulee Creek which empties into the Little Missouri River. The break was also significant because it happened less than 200 miles away from the Oceti Sakowin Camp, where Water Protectors were protesting the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Oil Pipeline Shut Down After Spill, Just 200 Miles From Standing Rock https://t.co/seK627QfeH @dhlovelife @stopKXL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481148610.0
The new number makes the Belle Fourche spill one of the largest in state history and perhaps the largest oil pipeline spill that contaminated a North Dakota water body, Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the state's Department of Health, told Inforum.
North Dakota's largest spill happened in September 2013 when a Tesoro Corp. pipeline leaked about 840,000 gallons of fracked oil in a wheat field near Tioga, causing one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history. That spill has still not been cleaned up more than three years later.
Additionally, based on data from Hart Energy, the revised estimate makes the Belle Fourche Pipeline spill the largest pipeline leak in all of 2016. Second place now goes to Sunoco Logistics—a DAPL operator—which spilled 8,600 barrels of oil from its Permian Express II Pipeline near Sweetwater, Texas in September.
Cleanup of the Belle Fourche Pipeline bust is still ongoing. "We continue to work on the recovery and the cleanup. We will be there until this is finished," Owen said.
Earlier today, the Trump administration granted a presidential permit to TransCanada for its $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline which will carry Alberta tar sands to processing and export facilities in the southern U.S.
BREAKING: Trump to Approve #KeystoneXL Pipeline Today https://t.co/Tf8A1qQnVW @SierraClub @greenpeaceusa @foe_us @MarkRuffalo @LeoDiCaprio— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1490359296.0
On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive order making it easier for both the Keystone XL and the DAPL to go forward.
"Pipelines spill; it's not if, it's when," Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with Standing Rock and the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in reaction to the Belle Fourche spill in December. "And the state-of-the-art 'leak detectors' the pipeline companies always tout don't work."
As EcoWatch reported, the Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is part of the family-owned True Companies, which also operates Bridger Pipeline LLC. Both pipelines are operated from the same control room in Casper, Wyoming. From 2006 to 2014, Belle Fourche reported 21 incidents, leaking a total of 272,832 gallons of oil. Bridger Pipeline recorded nine pipeline incidents in the same period, spilling nearly 11,000 gallons of crude.
A Belle Fourche pipeline that spilled 12,200 gallons in May, 2014 occurred on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Buffalo, Wyoming. It was later discovered that Belle Fourche did not have a permit to operate the land. Sister company Bridger was fined $27,029 for trespassing by the BLM.
Bridger was also responsible for dumping up to 50,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River in 2015.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has long been tied to environmental risks such as spills. The frequency of spills, however, has long been murky since states do not release standardized data.
Estimates from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) vary wildly.
"The number of spills nationally could range from approximately 100 to 3,700 spills annually, assuming 25,000 to 30,000 new wells are fractured per year," the agency said in a June 2015 report. Also, the EPA reported only 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012.
But now, a new study suggests that fracking-related spills occur at a much higher rate.
The analysis, published Feb. 21 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed 6,648 spills in four states alone—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—in 10 years.
The researchers determined that up to 16 percent of fracked oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemically laden water, fracking fluids and other substances.
EPA Watered Down Major #Fracking Study to Downplay Water Contamination Risks https://t.co/9HhJdrSZ1R @GreenpeaceUK @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480767012.0
For the study, the researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 fracked wells in the four states between 2005 and 2014.
"On average, that's equivalent to 55 spills per 1,000 wells in any given year," lead author Lauren Patterson, a policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, told ResearchGate.
North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents. Pennsylvania reported 1,293, Colorado reported 476 and New Mexico reported 426. The researchers created an interactive map of spill sites in the four states.
Although North Dakota is rich in oil, the state's higher spill rate can be explained by varying state reporting requirements. North Dakota is required to report any spill larger than 42 gallons whereas requirement in Colorado and New Mexico is 210 gallons.
Patterson points out that the different reporting requirements are a problem.
"Our study concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," she told ResearchGate. "States would benefit from setting reporting requirements that generate actionable information—that is, information regulators and industry can use to identify and respond to risk 'hot spots.' It would also be beneficial to standardize how spills are reported. This would improve accuracy and make the data usable to understand spill risks."
9,442 Citizen-Reported Fracking Complaints Reveal 12-Years of Suppressed Data https://t.co/I8IpPRk6zR @talkfracking @AntiFrackinguk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485858909.0
The reason why the researchers' numbers vastly exceeded the 457 spills estimated by the EPA is because the agency only accounted for spills during the hydraulic fracturing stage itself, rather than the entire process of unconventional oil and gas production.
"Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson explained. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells—not just unconventional ones."
For instance, the researchers found that 50 percent of spills were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines.
"The causes are quite varied," Patterson told BBC. "Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places."
220 'Significant' Pipeline Spills Already This Year Exposes Troubling Safety Record https://t.co/pxhlC3pf06 @PriceofOil @350 @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1477418713.0
For the four states studied, most spills occurred in the the first three years of a well's life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest.
Additionally, a significant portion of spills (26 percent in Colorado, 53 percent in North Dakota) occurred at wells with more than one spill, suggesting that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.
"Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health," said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School's Environmental Policy Initiative in a statement. "Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community."
By Kali Holloway
As Donald Trump takes office, pushing a wave of explicitly authoritarian federal policies and practices, Republican leaders at every level are following suit. The latest example is North Dakota lawmaker Keith Kempenich, who has introduced a bill that says a driver "who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway, is not guilty of an offense."
Kempenich, who spoke to the Bismark Tribune, was completely candid in expressing that he created the legislation in response to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion project, which would span 1,100 miles and include Sioux land at the Standing Rock reservation, was halted in December after months of high-profile protests.
Rob Wilson Photography / Facebook
"It's shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian," Kempenich told the newspaper. The state Rep. went on to justify his bill, which would allow motorists to potentially maim or kill protesters using a vehicle—thousands of pounds of fast-moving metal—but complaining that protesters are "intentionally putting themselves in danger."
Kempenich's said his opposition to the U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment-granted rights of free speech, is the result of his mother-in-law being inconvenienced while driving through protests. The lawmaker cited an instance when he said, as she drove past a long line of cars parked along shoulder of the road, a protester jumped in front of her car waving a sign. It seems just as likely that the protester emerged from a blind spot created by the stationary cars, as can happen in any situation where parked vehicles create a visual barrier. It's impossible to say definitively, since neither Kempenich nor any of the other six Republican sponsors of the bill were there at the time.
"It's shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space," Tara Houska, a Native activist who works with environmental organization Honor the Earth, told NBC News. "These [bills] are meant to criminalize the protests with no real concern for constitutional law."
Along with Kempenich, other Republican backers of the bill include Michael Brandenburg, Vernon Laning, Bill Oliver, Karen Rohr, Dwight Cook and Donald Schaible.
This isn't the first time in recent months that GOP legislators have tried to push aggressively anti-free speech laws. In Washington State, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen has proposed a law that would create "a new crime of economic terrorism" which could allow for the arrest and prosecution of any protesters who "block transportation and commerce, cause property damage, threaten jobs and put public safety at risk."
Ericksen is likely well aware of the fact that "blocking commerce" succinctly describes pretty much every protest, ever. Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer of Stillwater, Minnesota, is floating a bill that further criminalizes and penalizes protesting on freeways. Lohmer's legislation would increase fines from $1,000 to $3,000 and raise jail time from 90 days to a full year.
North Dakota Governor: DAPL Likely to Get Easement Once Trump Is President https://t.co/2y9csS07rl @Indigeneity @dirtyoilsands— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484353813.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.