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Colonial Pipeline Explosion Follows Weeks Of Increasingly Tense Standing Rock Protests

Amid tense Standing Rock protests — which has been a months-long standoff to fight the construction of an oil pipeline under tribal lands near the Standing Rock Native American Reservation — Reuters has reported that several people have been injured due to a Colonial Pipeline explosion in a rural part of Alabama, just outside Birmingham. The pipeline exploded on Monday afternoon when a segment of the pipeline was undergoing maintenance and at least seven people were reported to have been severely burned and injured in the incident. The company has since shut down both of its main gasoline and distillates pipelines, which is now the second time the pipeline has been closed in last two months.

"Colonial has shut down its mainlines in Shelby County, Ala., after reports of a fire on its right of way," the company said in a statement. "Colonial personnel and emergency crews are responding. Colonial’s top priorities are the health and safety of the work crew on site and protection of the public."

On Sept. 9, the same company experienced an oil spill southwest of Birmingham in Shelby County, which leaked nearly 8,000 barrels of gas into a remote wildlife area and disrupted gas distribution to nearby communities for days.

Monday's blast follows months of heated protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, although many in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been in opposition to the $4 billion project since it was introduced in 2014. Now, the movement has gained thousands of supporters — including many Native Americans — to fight the 1,200-mile project that would build a pipeline to transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois.

The Colonial Pipeline explosion doesn't exactly help those behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, who have insisted that they will do all they can to safeguard against any disaster, just like the recent explosions and spills in Alabama.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
CORRECTION - A protest holds a sign reading Protect Our Water as Native Americans and their supporters walk on land designated for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), after protestors confronted contractors and private security guards working on the oil pipeline project, forcing them to retreat, September 3, 2016, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Hundreds of Native American protestors and their supporters, who fear the Dakota Access Pipeline will polluted their water, forced construction workers and security forces to retreat and work to stop. / AFP / Robyn BECK / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Robyn BECK has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [A protest holds a sign reading Protect Our Water as Native Americans and their supporters walk on land designated for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), after protestors confronted contractors and private security guards working on the oil pipeline project, forcing them to retreat, September 3, 2016, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.] instead of [A protestor is treated after being pepper sprayed by private security contractors on land being graded for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil pipeline, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, September 3, 2016.]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

What happened in Alabama today is one of the main reasons why the Sioux and others are protesting the project. According to a recent Time piece on the protests, "the pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, the primary drinking water source for the Standing Rock Sioux, a tribe of around 10,000 with a reservation in the central part of North and South Dakota."

Coincidentally, on Monday, hundreds of thousands of people had checked in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Facebook. Many of the people who checked in weren't anywhere near the location, but it's been speculated that they did so to prevent local law enforcement from tracking protesters on social media.

"The Morton County Sheriff's Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Standing Rock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps," one Facebook user who checked into the reservation wrote. "SO Water Protecters are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them."

The Morton County Sheriff's Department wrote on Facebook that this claim "is absolutely false," which was supported by later fact-checks, but served as a sign of support for those concerned about the environment and safety of Native lands nonetheless.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the encampment where hundreds of people have gathered to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protest of the oil pipeline that is slated to cross the Missouri River nearby, September 4, 2016 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Protestors were attacked by dogs and sprayed with an eye and respiratory irritant yesterday when they arrived at the site to protest after learning of the bulldozing work. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

The environmental disasters that resulted from the incidents in Alabama are some of the main issues the Standing Rock protesters have against the Dakota Access Pipeline, given that the local tribes see the lands as sacred.

When you consider how even the smallest spill could devastate a community's water supply and the damage that was caused by the explosion in Alabama on Monday, it becomes a bit easier to understand why these protesters are going to such great lengths to have their voices heard.