The US$3.8-billion pipeline project was first announced in 2014. Construction began in May 2016 and will be done by the end of the year, “depending on regulatory approvals,” say pipeline officials.

You might see it referred to by its acronym DAPL, or as the Bakken pipeline. Note: the Bakken pipeline is actually a larger system which includes the DAPL.

Running almost 1,900 kilometres (1,172-miles), the DAPL will carry oil through four U.S. states to Gulf Coast refineries.

The pipeline starts, at the top, in Northwest North Dakota, at the Bakken Formation – a deposit of oil and natural gas underneath the meeting points of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and a sliver of Manitoba. It travels southeast into Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota.

The route would cross beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, as well as part of Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation – where indigenous groups say it will go through tribal land and sacred burial grounds (more on that later).


Dakota Access LLC. It’s a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane company based in Dallas.

They are rushing to complete the pipeline by the end of 2016 because oil-transport contracts written in 2014 – a period before energy prices dropped – will expire in January 2017.

ETP said in court documents that if the project is delayed into 2017, it could be cancelled.

ETP’s chairman and CEO is Kelcy Warren, who cofounded Energy Transfer Equity with fellow billionaire Ray C. Davis in 1995. Forbes says Warren has a net worth of US$3.5 billion.

The company claims the pipeline would:

  • transport 470,000 barrels of fracked, crude oil every day;
  • create up to 12,000 local construction jobs;
  • inject US$156 million in sales and income taxes into the U.S. economy; and
  • generate US$55 million in property taxes in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

Pipeline supporters also say it’s safer than transport by rail or by truck. Transport became a growing concern after a string of train derailments carrying North Dakota crude. In 2013, a train carrying crude oil sparked a series of explosions in Lac-Megantic, a small Quebec town. Two years later, a crude oil spill from a derailed CN train impacted the town of Gogama, Ontario.


Indigenous groups in the Dakotas and Iowa – and from all over the U.S., Canada and Latin America – are against project over fears it would damage the environment, the local economy and religious and cultural sites.

The center of the protest movement is the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, home of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. Protesters have set up camp in Cannon Ball, near the reservation.

Since the standoff began in August, nearly 300 protesters have been arrested. While protests have been largely peaceful, there have been violent flare ups between protesters and police -- including on Oct. 27 when police used pepper spray and concussion grenades to force protesters off private land on the pipeline route.


The Sioux tribe is citing a 1851 Treaty between the federal government and Sioux nations, claiming they are the rightful owners of the occupied land which Energy Transfer Partners intends to use as part of the pipeline route – and which lies half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. ETP is relying on eminent domain to clear a route across the four states.

The Sioux tribe wants the pipeline rerouted, and is also putting pressure on the Obama administration to deny ETP an easement to build near the reservation.

The tribe says the pipeline threatens the Missouri River – the region’s water supply – and that the company failed to do necessary environmental reviews before construction.

Members of the Sioux tribe also say the project goes over sacred land that was never ceded.

In August 2016, a group organized under the name ReZpect Our Water petitioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, and the tribe sued for an injunction.


Map showing the proposed Dakota Access pipeline route, nearby Native American reservations and protest site. Mobile users, click here to enlarge. (Tahiat Mahboob)


Back in September, the Obama administration halted construction on part of the pipeline along a stretch near North Dakota’s Lake Oahe – which acts as a major water source for the Sioux tribe – until it could do more environmental tests.

It was a big victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters.

Obama recently told MSNBC he’s “closely” monitoring the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to reroute the pipeline away from sacred lands.

“Were going to let it play out for several more weeks and then determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to traditions of the first Americans,” Obama told MSNBC in an interview.

Meanwhile, according to court records, ETP has already changed the route – upwards of 140 times in North Dakota alone -- to avoid building over burial sites. And oil industry groups and lawmakers are pressuring the government to stop intervening – especially after a federal judge issued a standing order that ETP and the Army Corps of Engineers did everything the law required of them to go ahead with the project.

Energy Transfer Partners says it’s committed to completing the pipeline and would “obey the rules and trust the process.”


Neither candidate has taken a strong position on the pipeline and the months-long protests.

At the end of October, Hillary Clinton released what critics are calling a non-statement on the issue, saying “all voices should be heard” and that it’s important that “everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”

While she has promised to continue with Obama’s Clean Power Plan and commitments to the Paris agreement, Clinton has come out in support of fracking in the past.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has opposed any restrictions on the development of oil, coal or gas and has pledged to expand domestic fossil fuel production if he were elected. He told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in October that he would “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks to allow these vital energy infrastructure projects to go ahead”.

“We have roadblocks like you’ve never, ever seen – environmental blocks, structural blocks,” Trump said. “We are going to allow the Keystone pipeline and so many other things to move forwards. Tremendous numbers of jobs and good for our country.”

Trump’s financial disclosure forms show he has invested between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in Energy Transfer Partners. He has a further US$500,000 to US$1,000,000 in Phillips 66, which will have a 25 per cent stake in the Dakota Access pipeline once it’s completed.

ETP’s chief executive, Kelcy Warren, has also given US$100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, and US$3,000 to Trumps presidential campaign (the limit for individual donations to a candidate DAis US$2,700 per election.)


While the Dakota Access Pipeline does not directly impact Canada, on August 2, 2016, Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P. (EEP), a unit of Calgary-based energy delivery company Enbridge, announced that they will acquire a 27.6 per cent interest in the Bakken Pipeline System. The price tag: US$1.5 billion.

In addition, three Canadian banks, RBC, Scotiabank and TD Securities, are among 17 financial institutions that have either have financial dealings with the pipeline or with companies that have a stake in the pipeline project. According to an investigation, TD Securities has given $360 million in project-level loans to the Dakota Access pipeline.

Scotiabank has been identified as a lender to Sunoco Logistics, a pipeline operator that will take over operation of DAPL once the project is completed. RBC, meanwhile, has been identified as a lender to Energy Transfer Equity, an affiliate of Energy Transfer Partners. Neither RBC nor Scotiabank, however, have been identified as providing direct, project-level loans to Dakota Access LLC.