September 6, 2016

Could violent protests over North Dakota pipeline happen in New Mexico?

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All is not well in North Dakota. For months, members of local tribal groups and other private landowners have been battling an oil pipeline designed to move tar sand oil from Canada down to US manufacturing interests in the gulf. This particular pipeline is slated to go UNDER the Missouri River, a key source of drinking water for tribal groups in the area as well as millions of others down river. Did you know that there have been at least 18 pipeline spills in the US this year already? Two already IN THE LAST 3 DAYS, one in California and another in Louisiana.

It’s understandable that people are terrified at the prospect of a pipeline contaminating their drinking water.

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Protesters demonstrate at work work site of Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo from mprnews.org)

In addition, the pipeline’s path crosses through lands held by First Nation groups as sacred hunting grounds and traditional burial grounds. This past weekend, protests turned violent as private security teams sicked dogs on protesters and sprayed them with pepper spray.

In 2014 we reported on a similar pipeline planned for New Mexico. The so-called “Pinon Pipeline” is still being vetted to carry oil from the San Juan basin across the state to points east where it would hook up with existing pipelines. That pipeline too crosses tribal lands and other public lands. In all the Bureau of Land Management received more than 30,000 comments during the vetting process. No decision has been made, but public comment periods are closed. If that pipeline is approved, what options are left for people who oppose it?

The Navajo Nation announced yesterday that they were standing in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Their statement is worth reading:

“We have been outright annihilated, we have been exploited and there needs to be a point that we take a stand and say no more, this may be that time,” said Duane “Chili” Yazzie, the Shiprock chapter president. “We have great concern for the livability of the planet for future generations.”

The fight over land, resources, and fair use is something we know about all too well in New Mexico as well. There are legal issues all over the state concerning private interests from oil and gas drilling that compete with access to traditional native lands as well as access to public lands enjoyed by all.

Oil and gas revenues account for a huge portion of New Mexico’s tax intake. The current fiscal crises facing the state stems from an overly heavy reliance on these singular industry partnerships. And with every new lease comes more conflict between industry and the public.

In recent years we’ve seen what the incestuous nature of industry and public policy look like first hand.

There are other instances of private industry having had their way with New Mexico without the people having much recourse.

The blurred lines between private industry and public regulation aren’t new. But watching the struggle of native peoples in North Dakota shows that when these issues go too long behind closed doors or without the benefit of solid press coverage, it’s often already too late.

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