WHAT’S THE STORY?

FACEBOOK users around the world have been “checking in” and appearing to join a protest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where Native Americans are defending their land and water supplies from the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

The project is a $3.7 billion (£3bn), 1,170-mile pipeline to deliver crude oil from the Bakken Formation – a huge underground deposit where North Dakota and Montana meet Canada – into South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

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Dakota Access – a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company (ETCO) – is behind the pipeline, which is being built by Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas-based company, and it would change the entire landscape of crude supply in the US.

Bakken has massive potential with more than seven billion barrels of undiscovered oil in its US section, according to geologists.

Once complete, the pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of crude per day – enough to make more than 370 million gallons of petrol a day.

However, it comes at a price – many see it as a potential environmental disaster that could destroy sacred Native American sites.

More than a million people are talking about it on Facebook and the point of “checking in” is to put police – who have been monitoring social media – off the scent of the true number of protesters who have set up camps on parts of the site where building is expected to take place.

WHO’S PROTESTING?

THOUSANDS of Native Americans and climate change activists started to set up the Standing Rock camps in April, but their protests have been in vain.

Tribal leaders say the pipeline is being built in areas that contain sacred burial grounds and their protests have become more intense over the last fortnight, as construction moves closer to the Missouri River. Indigenous leaders fear the pipeline could contaminate the river.

Hundreds of people have been arrested amid claims of an “aggressive” police response to demonstrations, with pepper spray, riot gear and army tanks.

A group from the United Nations is also investigating allegations of human rights abuses by North Dakota law enforcement officials.

Several campaign websites have claimed that British taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland Group is among the banks who have been financing the project, and Green MSP Ross Greer wrote to RBS chief executive Ross McEwan, seeking an urgent meeting to find out if that was the case.

However, the bank denied involvement, and a spokesperson told The National yesterday: “We’re not funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. RBS has never had a banking relationship with Dakota Access LLC. RBS provided financial support to the parent company of Dakota Access LLC but have since exited the relationship.”

IS EXCESSIVE FORCE BEING USED?

THAT depends on who you speak to, but the UN is taking the claims seriously. Its advisory group has been taking evidence from protesters who have spoken of human rights violations and people being held in “cages” similar to dog kennels in local jails.

Greer, a West of Scotland MSP, said: “The reports of how the authorities are handling the protests are outrageous, with documented incidents of excessive force, unlawful arrests and mistreatment in jail.”

Officials, in turn, have accused journalists and activists of various charges, including criminal trespassing and rioting.

Strictly enforced road blocks have been set up to protect the pipeline site from demonstrators and everyone else.

Among the Native Americans who were arrested – and later released – were elderly women and young activists, who have complained about “cruel and inhumane” treatment.

Many said it appeared that police were not prepared to handle hundreds of people at once in their local cells. A day after their release, some still had numbers and charges written on their arms in marker pen.

Phyllis Young, one of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, told the UN representatives she had intended to help the tribe file a lawsuit against North Dakota law enforcement. She said the violent actions of the police against native people were “conditions of war”.

She said: “We embarked upon a peaceful and prayerful campaign. They were placed in cages.

“They had numbers written on their arms very much like concentration camps.”

An investigation by the website Food & Water Watch claimed to have identified nearly 40 banks and financial institutions involved in funding the pipeline project.

Researcher Hugh MacMillan said: “Ask these banks to clarify whether funds they are providing are being used, in any amount, to pay for the heavily militarised response to the Standing Rock Sioux, including the attack dogs, sound-cannon trucks, heavily armed officers, and even a crop duster spraying undetermined chemicals over the camp.

“People should also ask these institutions why they are sinking so much money into maximizing the amounts of oil and gas that can be brought to the surface and burned at a time when climate science is clear we have to maximize what we keep in the ground instead.”