Published in  
September 28, 2016

The North Dakota Access Pipeline

When the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, financiers of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, argue that the pipeline will bring millions of dollars into local economies and create an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs, the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe counter by stating that the construction of the pipeline – and resultant oil spills – will destroy their ancient lands, contaminate water supply, and disturb sacred burial grounds.

At least, that’s how the media presents the conversation. But there’s more at stake here. The pipeline (which the Sioux have named ‘the black snake’) is not merely an environmental threat; the arguments against its progress cannot simply be reduced to prognostications about potential oil spills (which the developers could always get around by reassuring the tribes and regulators of the sturdiness of their technology). What is at stake here is an entire world: the pipeline, snaking through the earth like some phallic probe seeking insemination, is an instrument of the mechano-rationalization of the world, or the conversion of the world into bits and pieces amenable to the logic of human-driven ascension.

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It is the displacement of one nature with another – the displacement of a dense network of more-than-human relationships with the brisk, feverish gesture of the wounded tinkerer – ‘forever’ entranced by the fierceness of the world around him, and forever motivated to rein her in and put her in the family way. A way of touching the earth will be lost; a way of speaking about dead relatives, haunting moons, howling wolves, and refreshing water will fade away. Magical causalities that speak of simultaneity will be occluded, and resolute Cartesian links between things will be reaffirmed. Names will be forgotten. This whole episode is not merely boardroom talk about the profitability of a venture or an environmental impact assessment; it is a struggle of fragile natures – a meeting of ripples and the consequent dance of troughs and crests. In the ‘middle’, something bigger than winning or losing always happens.