Palisadian Charlotte Grubb Reports from a Front-line of New Social Activism—The Protest Against the Dakota Access Pipeline and How it Got her Into Legal Trouble
By Charlotte Grubb | Special to the Palisadian-Post
“If this drill moves forward, my arms are going with it.” The 20,000-pound machine shook forcefully under me. “Will I lose my arms?” With each engine pulse, rubber tubes in front of my face expanded to press into my cheeks. The smell of burnt rubber enveloped me as cold sludge sputtered onto my face in unison with the rhythm of the engine.
I had locked myself to a horizontal drill in Boone, Iowa as part of a peaceful, non-violent protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Growing up in Pacific Palisades, I was acting in solidarity with the indigenous-led movement at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. There, native people and allies were fighting the same pipeline to protect their land and water, and halt centuries of theft and exploitation.
By law, companies are required to turn equipment off when a person is attached to it. This was not happening. My arms were locked to the base of the drill and for 30 minutes, my whole body vibrated with the rhythm of the machine. The drill was then turned off, and I remained for hours.
Terrifying, yes. But it also felt good. Even if it was just one night at one river of one pipeline, it felt satisfying to have my body physically and peacefully stopping this system that makes decisions based on profit and disregards human and ecological cost.
Construction companies use horizontal drills to place pipes under waterways, and I was trying to interrupt this drilling under the Des Moines River. This river is a source of drinking water for over half a million people in Des Moines alone, and a spill would put clean water at risk for downstream residents.
In 2012, there were 6,000 oil spills in the U.S., equivalent to 16 spills each day. It is not a matter of if oil from this pipeline will spill, it is a matter of when. DAPL is not yet complete and already 104 gallons have spilled in South Dakota. This is enough to contaminate drinking water for one million people.
The Dakota Access Pipeline stretches 1,172 miles to bring oil from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Pipelines are currently being constructed in half of the states in the U.S. and show no signs of slowing. At this rate, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions necessary to avoid climate catastrophe are impossible.
The oil and gas industry currently receives about $1 trillion in global subsidies per year, which dramatically misrepresents the financial costs of extraction. One hundred percent of our global energy needs could be sourced from renewables by 2030.
There are also more job opportunities from renewable sources than fossil fuels, some studies estimate as many as 30 times more. The justification that pipeline construction creates jobs and that renewable energy sources are insufficient is simply not true.
The line where oil and gas companies end and the government begins is murky at best. Oil and gas companies have one goal: maximize quarterly profits for shareholders. In 2013, $400,000 per day was spent by U. S. oil and gas industry lobbyists.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon Mobil, he made over $100,000 every day. From excessive campaign contributions, powerfully funded lobbyists, and maintaining a revolving door between business and government, these oil and gas companies ensure the government prioritizes and protects the economic self-interest of the oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of its citizens.
Although my cheeks are no longer pressed into the engine of a drill, I am still locked to a machine that prioritizes corporate profits over my right to a glass of clean water. I am currently writing this from the floor of my jail cell in Boone, Iowa.
When I emerge and take a breath of fresh air for the first time in one month, I will owe DAPL $5,000 (originally $27,000) for unsubstantiated and legally unprecedented restitution claims. I will owe the jail $1,700 ($65/day) for my boarding fees. My case is part of a national trend toward increasingly severe legal consequences for peaceful protest, a cornerstone of democracy.
Even if it feels like our hands are tied and cold sludge is being slung in our face, we can find a way off this machine. We know a better world is possible. This means creating economic alternatives, de-privatizing our energy sources, limiting the political power of corporations, engaging in community and removing hyper-consumption from its altar.
The oil and gas industry is powerful and relentless and the roots run deep, but so do we and so do ours.
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