Opponents of the oil and gas industry's expansion scored a major victory Sunday as the U.S. Army halted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's territory.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army's assistant secretary for civil works, announced that the pipeline proponent would need to find an alternative route to protect the tribe's traditional territory in North Dakota. In a statement, she noted that tribal officials had expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.

"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."

Darcy also called for an environmental impact analysis with full public participation.

Over the last few months, protests against the Dakota Access pipeline have become an international symbol of public resistance to the oil and gas industry. At times, the peaceful demonstrations have been met with violence from security forces, rallying additional supporters to the First Nation's cause.

These clashes have inspired many supporters in other regions to show their solidarity with the people of Standing Rock by pressing their own governments to protect the land and culture of all Indigenous communities. They also served as a catalyst for the signing of a pan-continental treaty alliance against oilsands expansion. Meantime, the provincial government in Alberta, home to the planet’s third-largest reserve of crude oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, has been pushing to build new pipelines to gain new access to customers in overseas markets.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Rueben George, National Energy Board, Kinder Morgan, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Burnaby, pipeline protest, Indigenous rights
Tsleil-Waututh leaders (left to right) Gabriel George, Charlene Aleck and Rueben George sign the Treat Alliance Against the Tar Sands in Vancouver on Thurs. Sept. 22, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

New pipelines approved in Canada

Depsite widespread resistance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved two pipelines last week that, if built, would add about one million barrels per day of new capacity to Canada's existing network of crude oil pipelines. The Trans Mountain expansion project, proposed by the Texas-based Kinder Morgan, and the Line 3 expansion proposed by Enbridge, were the two projects to get the green light.

But Sunday's dramatic announcement south of the border could indicate that these Canadian pipelines might struggle in the path towards construction. They too, face fierce opposition from First Nations, environmentalists and local communities. Scientists have also questioned whether there is enough evidence supporting Trudeau's claim that national climate targets can be balanced with the greenhouse gas emissions created by pipelines, and that both pipeline projects can be operated safely.

If built, the Dakota Acess pipeline would run about 1,890 kilometres from oil fields in North Dakota to a crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge, has proposed to buy a share of the project, but has not yet received final approval for the transaction.

The oil and gas industry and a number of politicians have said these pipelines are needed to boost struggling companies that have cut tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in Alberta, due to the plunge in global oil prices that started in the fall of 2014.

In the U.S. however, army reservists and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard had recently joined Standing Rock protesters to serve as human shields, following violent clashes with security forces that included tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, the UK Guardian reported on Sunday.

“Unless we protect our water, there is no economy,” Gabbard told the publication.

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