The protest at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota is becoming a classic controversy generating lots of heat but little light, as abominable treatment of the protesters takes center stage and spurs different groups such as veterans to come to their defense. Being hosed down with freezing cold water in sub-freezing temperatures is no joke, as anyone with an understanding of hypothermia can tell you.
Left lingering are the important questions which the major media now has the opportunity to explore, but being in the pockets of the oil companies, does not. It does not require any extensive study to see that the number of oil industry and industry-related ads on the airwaves suggest it is not in the interests of the networks to offend the industry.
By now everyone knows that the tribes are contending that a major pipeline running through or near their source of drinking water - the Ogallala Aquifer - poses a risk to their health, and courts disaster. The oil industry counters, as it has for years, that oil pipelines are relatively safe, and pose less risk of oil spills polluting the environment than truck transportation.
What is the truth? If we look at the numbers, the most remarkable thing about oil pipeline spills is that we are not hearing more about them.
An aggregation of data put together by High County News in Colorado shows that, since 2010, the number liquid oil spills, which would not include natural gas, is in the thousands. Many never receive news coverage. The coverage seems to be heaviest when miles of pristine beach and visible oil-covered animals are involved, many of them cute, and the cuter the better.
That is not to say that affected animals are always visible. It's just that the cameras can get to them.
The estimate by High Country News was that since 2010, more than 7 million gallons were spilled as a result of oil pipelines.
"Over the past five years, there have been over 1,000 crude oil pipeline leaks and ruptures reported to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration."
The odds of one of these accidents happening were not long enough for the citizens of Bismark, ND, to accept the pipeline 50 miles north of the city. But putting it through Injun Country, well that's different. How many people are out there anyway and how much taxes do they pay? Oil company executives and politicians always cut to the chase.
Although the pipeline runs through what is now called "private land," that land is only private because it was stole when it was un-private, that is, belonged to the original inhabitants. Who managed to live without oil and without fouling the nest, which even a bird has the common sense not to do.
The land now called private was covered by the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851, which gave it outright to the Sioux. But somehow now it's private without the tribes having given it up - ceded the territory. That's why they say white man speaks with forked tongue.
There are other fascinating issues that a non-major-media analysis of the environmental hazards brings out. It turns out that we are fouling the land and water in worse ways, including the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest in North America, on which millions depend for drinking water, and which waters nearly a third of the nation's irrigated agriculture. And we have been doing it for a long time. This comes from the millions of gallons of pesticides put into the ground water by agribusiness every year. They contain chemicals like Atrazine, definitely not a good thing to drink. Among other things, a known hormone disrupter.
Maybe even worse than that, the Ogalla Aquifer is not a renewable resource. When it's gone, it's gone. At present rates it will be gone in a few generations, and then we will have to learn to live without it.
It's like having a kid's splash pool of water in your basement, in addition to a couple of cases of bottled water laying around the house. It is the last water your family has to drink, until you figure something else out. How to catch the rain, how to desalinate sea water cheaply, anything. Because that's what the human species is facing.
Now the kids are playing with buckets of oil and pesticides around that splash pool. Is that smart?
This is rock hard science. The droughts of today are alleviated by the ground water. Soon much of that will be gone too.
John Hollow Horn of the Oglala Lakota Sioux said circa 1915:
"Someday the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die."
Forget the oil. That will not be most precious resource in the future. The human race needs a space race to survive on its own planet, nevermind figuring out how to live on Mars.
If what the tribes have done is call attention to this reality, then a holy spirit, which they say is revealed by signs like the buffalo stampede, may indeed be at work.