Editor's Note: This column contained inaccuracies. The first published version incorrectly stated that the North Dakota Department of Health offered Steve and Patty Jensen a trip to Europe for a vacation while a 2013 oil spill was cleaned up on their land. The Jensens were never offered a trip to Europe by the Department of Health. The column also incorrectly stated that the oil spill amounted to 20,000 gallons. The initial amount recorded by the state Industrial Commission was 20,000 barrels. The Press regrets these errors.
CANNON BALL-Does it really matter who the protesters are at the Cannon Ball encampment?
Fact is, we are about to put a pipeline transporting an ocean of oil beneath the Missouri River, a very important water source. How much smarter is that than when, 100 years ago, we allowed factories to dump their waste into rivers?
Is it risky? Much less so if installers do their jobs correctly.
After all, it's only been a month or so since pipeline contractor Kenny Crase wrote in a sworn statement filed with federal regulators that he was ordered to skip a final coating inspection on a section of the Sacagawea Pipeline Project before another contractor installed the pipe under Lake Sakakawea in July. Since external coating protects the steel pipe from corrosion, how confident does that make you feel?
In 2013, I saw 20,000 barrels of oil dumped onto Steve Jensen's wheat field near Tioga. That was another one of those electronically monitored underground pipelines. I guess the warning buzzer for leaks on those things just doesn't go off real fast.
And, maybe you've got to see 20,000 barrels of crude in a wheat field to truly believe it.
The price tag on cleaning that up is $20 million plus. Imagine what it'll be if an ocean of lube leaks into a river that supplies water to millions of people downstream. That bill will be a whole lot higher and affect many more people than just Steve Jensen and his family.
Will Dakota Access, the pipeline installer, or whoever gets the bill have enough in their savings account to cover it all? Or will, as often happens, America's citizens have to dig deep into their wallets?
Then again, it'll probably happen in our grandkids kid's lifetime, so who cares?
But who are these crazy people hanging out on the Cannon Ball River encampment? I'll tell you who.
If you go down there, like I did, you'll quickly discover that at least 30 percent of them aren't Indians at all. I met people from Virginia, Kansas and even Austria who'd never met an Indian in their lives.
The whole thing is one part prayer fest, one part "happening" and all parts interesting. But one thing is certain: you can't possibly judge what's going on until you've been there. There are just too many angles to this story and too many stories within the big story. It is something that'll take years to dissect and yet, the courts were being called upon to do it in a matter of days and hours.
Dan Warner is a man in his early 20s who, while working as a landscaper, decided to move from from Harrisburg, Va., to Portland, Ore. On the way, somewhere in Chicago, he heard a report about a protest in North Dakota that had to do with protecting the environment. So, since he was not on a tight schedule, he thought he'd stop by and check it out.
"Have you ever been around American Indian culture?" I asked.
"No," he said, "never have. But everyone has been very friendly."
Moona Caciro was traveling with her 10-year-old daughter from Virginia to a retreat and a new life in New Mexico when she decided to swing over, with all of her belongings packed into a little blue Volkswagon bug.
"We're all connected," she said. "You have to stand up for change or there is no future."
Richard White is a 56-year-old Lakota who grew up in Cannon Ball and graduated from high school in Solen. In his youth, he worked on ranches and eventually rode bucking horses in rodeo. He now lives near Rosebud, S.D.
"Living here back then was great," he said. "I had a full run of the place on horseback."
"So what brings you back?" I asked.
"The water," he said. "I feel really close to the water and more connected now because of my grandkids. One day this will be a sacred site."
Calvert Swallow is also a Lakota from Rosebud whose uncles are ceremonial leaders of the tribe. He says that humans were created to speak common sense for all other living things.
"Oil was put below the earth to stay," Swallow said, "and now it is making Mother Earth sick."
Whatever the case, this is not really about Indians is it? It's about drinkable, usable water and keeping it that way. Yet somehow this has become about Indians, maybe because nobody else showed any concern. Except when they were at first thinking about going under the river north of Bismarck.