Nearly 100 people marched to Energy Transfer Partners‘ (ETP) Stone Oak office Tuesday to protest the Texas company’s perceived disregard for environmental concerns and native rights in North Dakota and West Texas.

San Antonio is one of hundreds of U.S. cities where crowds have gathered in solidarity with the Sioux of Standing Rock.

For months, thousands also have traveled to North Dakota to practice civil disobedience against ETP’s Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which they believe jeopardizes Sioux drinking water and cultural sites.

“We’ve got a corporation that stands to gain a huge amount of money by this pipeline, but the pipeline is clearly not in the best interest of the country,” said Meredith McGuire, Alamo Sierra Club co-chair and former Trinity University professor. “As a matter of fact, the pipeline is taking the oil straight out of the country.”

Many voiced outrage that companies like ETP face little regulation as they expand oil and gas infrastructure, which scientists warn will accelerate carbon emissions toward a fast-approaching, perilous tipping point.

“The corporate greed…it’s going to kill us if we don’t do something about it,” said Barbara, a military veteran who chose not to provide her last name.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline will purvey 470,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken oil fields to Texas refineries. Meanwhile, West Texas communities fear the company’s expansion into the region could destroy the state’s most cherished natural treasures.

Those supporting DAPL, such as U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), say it will be much safer than the eight pipelines already built under the Missouri River. ETP’s DAPL fact page also describes pipelines as “the safest, most efficient method of transporting natural resources, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

In a radio interview, ETP CEO Kelcy Warren called the pipeline “extremely safe” and pointed out that “all of this crude is moving today” by rail.

ETP did not return the Rivard Report‘s request for comment by publication deadline.

Forbes analysis concurs that pipelines are safest regarding human death and property destruction. It adds, however, that pipelines are more likely to produce oil spills than railway transportation and more damaging to the environment than transportation by rail and truck.

Demonstrators Tuesday also expressed concern with the continually escalating police aggression against Standing Rock protesters. To Barbara, the use of militarized police tactics against American citizens “standing up for their home” is terrifying.

“My God, what is up with this?” she told the Rivard Report. “If we don’t think it could happen to us, if we don’t all take a stand, we are flat-out wrong.”

She will join an estimated 2,000 veterans traveling to Standing Rock next week to serve as “human shields” for protesters, as they vow to resist the governor’s mandatory evacuation order.

Citing the dangers of winter conditions, the order follows an announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close federal lands being used as protest campsites and create an alternative “free speech zone.”

Both the governor and Army Corps say they will not forcibly remove protesters. This may in part be due to reactions to the police’s Nov. 20 decision to use water hoses on protesters in freezing temperatures, leading some to be hospitalized for hypothermia. They also fired rubber bullets and concussion grenades that in one case injured a female protester’s arm so severely it may require amputation and may have blinded another protester in one eye.

More than 300 people were injured, resulting in a class-action lawsuit by the National Lawyers Guild.

Police initially denied using water cannons on protesters but eventually admitted to it when footage spread online. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department defended the tactic, saying protesters were setting fires, showing aggression, and even throwing rocks and logs at officers.

In a Nov. 22 news release, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voiced concern with the “disproportionate police use of excessive force against Native Americans, who are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by police.”

Police conduct has also provoked a UN human rights investigation and led Amnesty International observers to declare the behavior a “violation of the human rights to peaceful protest.”

Shouting “native lives matter,” San Antonio demonstrators highlighted their concern that, as in some black communities, police are being used as a vehicle for historic racism and oppression of Native Americans.

People march in protest of Texas company Energy Transfer Partners' perceived disregard for environmental concerns.
People march in protest of Texas company Energy Transfer Partners’ perceived disregard for environmental concerns. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Michelle Ottmers, who grew up on a Navajo reservation, views the movement as a moment of awakening for native tribes long taught to be ashamed of their culture and beliefs. She feels “more empowered” and “less afraid” to stand up.

“I’m not the only one who feels this oppression and this marginalization that has been imposed by the government,” she said. “We all feel the same way.”

In early November, dozens of demonstrators spoke directly to ETP CEO Warren at a meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, where he sits as one of nine commissioners. Protesters demanded that Warren step down from the commission and reconsider his company’s impact on the environment and native heritage sites. Warren finally agreed to meet with representatives from the Society of Native Nations (SNN).

The SNN, however, claims it could not agree to the conditions Warren later required for meeting, which included speaking with only one person and excluding all media and audio or video recording.

“It was our hope and his promise as a public official of the TX Parks and Wildlife to begin to engage in a worthwhile, fair, and unbiased dialogue,” the SNN wrote in a Nov. 17 news release.

Juan Mancias, a tribal chair for the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas and leader of the American Indian Movement of Central Texas, said he wished corporations like ETP could understand the value native cultures place on nature.

“It’s unfortunate that people like, you know, these guys have no connection to creation,” he said, pointing to the ETP office building. “(Their goal) is to subdue and multiply … to destroy everything around them.”

Anti-DAPL demonstrations gained momentum in late July when the Standing Rock Sioux filed a complaint against the Army Corps of Engineers, claiming it fast-tracked DAPL’s construction without adequately consulting affected tribes. The federal courts declined their petition on Sept. 9, but minutes later the Obama administration temporarily halted construction under the Missouri River to consider its impact.

Read the complaint here.

Warren decried Obama’s move as an overreach of government. He also told CBS he is 100% sure President-elect Donald Trump, whose campaign he gave $100,000, will grant the pipeline’s final easement.

“Here we have rules, regs, laws, and we follow them, we do everything exactly correct,” Warren said, “and our government steps in and says, ‘Ah, not so fast. We’re going to hold back for a while.’ That can’t happen here. And yet it is.”

He added that he thinks discussing treaties with the government “is great” but “does not apply here.”

“We’re not on their property,” he said. “That’s the thing. Everyone wants to forget that. … This is private land that we’re on.”

Protestors walk along E Sonterra Blvd.
Protestors walk along East Sonterra Boulevard near Energy Transfer Partner’s offices. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Stands with Standing Rock, which organized the protest, was formed by Northwest Vista student Daryn Ocean-Sun Rinterra. Part Navajo and Apache, he wanted to support the movement without interrupting his studies. This winter, he is arranging a trip for 400 people across Texas to travel to Standing Rock.

The organization also will hold a town hall meeting on Dec. 8 from 6:30-9 p.m. at 2500 S. Presa St.

Many of those crowded outside the ETP office Tuesday said they were first-timers compelled by the sacrifices made by Standing Rock protesters. One woman said she had closed all the bank accounts and credit cards with companies with investments in ETP.

“I feel angry at (the government) for not doing anything, and so I feel angry at myself for sitting there, being angry,” said protester Marshall Amey. “So this is my first protest. I want them to do something, so I’m trying to do something.”

Six-year-old Sophia said she is afraid of what the planet will be like when she grows up.

“If the pipeline breaks, then the other people won’t get to drink the water from there, and the animals will die, and the fish can’t live in the water,” she told the Rivard Report. “It makes me so sad.”

Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.