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Dakota Access Pipeline: Essential infrastructure of ecological racism

Standing Rock, South Dakota (CNN) It’s a project intended to connect but destined to divide.

1,172 miles of pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois that would carry in excess of 450,000 barrels of oil per day.

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A Texas energy company took the $3.7 billion plan public in 2014 — hoping to hydrofrack crude in the Bakken oil fields in a remote corner of North Dakota.

Supporters say the pipeline provides a safe pathway to energy independence and offers a more reliable way of shipping oil to refineries than by rail.

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The Dakota Access Pipeline was due for delivery on January 1, 2017. But concerns over the project’s necessity and what it could do the environment have ground construction to a halt.

Leading the charge — the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. They sued for an injunction. But when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the pipeline project its final permits this summer, tribe members and environmentalists began a protest that has now stretched nationwide.

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They believe the pipeline will disrupt sacred burial sites, adversely effect the tribe’s drinking water and make downstream communities vulnerable to contamination should there be a spill.

For months, protesters held rallies and rituals on reservation land, often under the watchful eye of local police. But that changed Sunday night when a standoff turned violent.

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Michael Knudsen was among the 400 protesters there that night. He’s the medical logistics coordinator for the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council and joined “CNN Newsroom L.A.” telling anchor Isha Sesay about what he witnessed.

He says things escalated when protesters tried to move a truck off of Backwater Bridge to clear a roadblock. Fires were set and police say they felt they had a riot on their hands.

With temperatures well below freezing, cops unleashed water cannons on protesters. Knudsen says they also shot rubber bullets, tear gas and, eventually, concussion grenades directly at the people gathered — a claim police deny.

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Two dozen people were taken to four hospitals in the region. One protester, a 21-year-old from New York, nearly lost her arm during an explosion. Both sides blame each other.

A state patrol spokesman said troopers never fired an explosive device. In fact, authorities said they recovered a propane cylinder, rocks and glass jars, which they said are commonly used to make Molotov cocktails.

The dust from the dust-up has settled for now. The project remains stalled around the reservation while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tries to work out a deal with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.” (In-house pkg produced by Nicol Nicolson)

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