Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need to Know


Conflict between Native American protesters and private security personnel over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has turned violent. What is the Dakota Access Pipeline? (NPR and CNN)

Use our resources to learn more about the long history of Native American protest movements in the Dakotas.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map. Look for our newest updates in italics.

oglala protest

These Native American protesters are not associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016—they are commemorating the Oglala Lakota occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. The upside-down American flag is a symbol of “dire distress” and has also been adopted by the pipeline protesters.
Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas


The Dakota Access Pipeline would run from Stanley, North Dakota; through South Dakota and Iowa; and end in Patoka, Illinois. From Patoka oil could be transported through a pipeline to the Gulf Coast for storage, refinement, or export.
Map courtesy Energy Transfer Partners


Get acquainted with some of the key places in the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute.

Get acquainted with some of the key places in the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute. Remember: This is not a National Geographic map; this is an amateur map made with our National Geographic MapMaker Interactive tool. Please make your own map of the DAPL and share it with us!

  • Hundreds of people in North Dakota are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. What is the Dakota Access pipeline?
    • The Dakota Access Pipeline will transport crude oil from hydrofracked sites in the Bakken Formation in northwestern North Dakota, which holds about 7.4 billion barrels of oil. This oil-rich rock formation gives the pipeline its other nickname, the Bakken pipeline. (Dakota Access, a subsidiary of the Texas-based energy giant Energy Transfer Partners, is the company planning the pipeline and the structure has simply adopted its name.)
    • Energy Transfer Partners has completed construction of the pipeline up to Lake Oahe, a reservoir created by a South Dakota dam on the Missouri River. But the company still lacks permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to perform the drilling there.
    • The pipeline itself is about 30 inches in diameter and would be installed underground: 140-210 feet below the ground surface of federal lands and approximately 92 feet below the bottom of Lake Oahe. It would carry about 470,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken to Pakota, Illinois. From there, the oil could be transferred through an existing pipeline to facilities on the Gulf Coast, where Energy Transfer Partners has a refinery. The oil could also be transported by rail to facilities on the East Coast.
    • The pipeline is estimated to cost $3.7 billion. Supporters say will result in $156 million in sales and income taxes, about 40 permanent jobs and thousands of temporary construction jobs.



  • Why are people, especially Native American groups, protesting construction of the pipeline?
    • The core protest group is called Rezpect Our Water. It is primarily concerned that installing the pipeline beneath the nearby Missouri River will impact the safety of the reservation’s water supply.
    • Many are concerned that historically and spiritually important Native American sites will be disturbed during construction of the pipeline. Bulldozers have already removed topsoil from an area about 150 feet wide and 2 miles long, prompting Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II to say, “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”
    • Critics say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not go through the consultation process before approving the pipeline. The Corps and North Dakota lawmakers deny this, saying the Standing Rock tribe was consulted.





CNN: 5 things to know about the Dakota Access Pipeline

Army Corps of Engineers: Frequently Asked Questions DAPL

Indian Country Today: Dakota Access Pipeline

Energy Transfer Partners: Dakota Access Pipeline Project

Nat Geo: Key Locations in the DAPL Dispute map

17 responses to “Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need to Know

  1. The concern over the risks of a pipeline crossing the Missouri are highly inflated. Take a look at a national map of pipelines in the U.S. and see the major rivers crossed (https://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/Documents/NPMS_Pipelines_Map.pdf). There are literally thousands of such pipelines. These are the safest way to transport these products (remember the recent crashes of trains carrying oil?) Yes, there are occasional problems, but these are generally small and contained without widespread consequences. These pipelines allow the protestors to travel to ND driving their gas powered vehicles and to stay warm with propane heaters. The seem oblivious to the ironic spectacle they present.

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  3. why could the people of Bismark ND ask them to change the route but the native people can’t?

  4. Could the Dakota access Pipeline be more beneficial or dangerous to the American people? After doing some research on the Dakota access Pipeline the only benefit I notice is the pipeline will create more jobs and increase revenue for a few states that the pipeline will be passing through. But it seems that there are more negative issues that will come with the Dakota pipeline then there is good. For instance the pipeline construction will increase pollution in the environment along the route of the pipeline harming crop, animal, and human life along with contaminating drinking water. Secondly there is a potential threat that a spill could occur which will damage the environment and harm wildlife, crop, drinking water and humans in the path of the spill. Overall I hope the pipeline is not built and that the company and the government who has the authority to stop it will notice that there are more negatives than positives that will come from this pipeline.

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  7. This is a conflict between Native lander and private security contractors ,i can understand people protest for their rights but government should resolve this issue..people are suffering

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  12. National Geographic needs their fact checkers back. There is a threat to the water supply as proven many times by other indigenous people’s throughout the world; the Amazon for instance. Water is sacred.

  13. Pingback: Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need to Know – GEOGRAPHY EDUCATION·

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