So far, the hundreds of protesters fighting the Dakota Access pipeline have shrugged off the heavy snow, icy winds, and frigid temperatures that have swirled around their large encampment on the North Dakota grasslands. But if they defy the government deadline to abandon the camp by Monday as promised, demonstrators know the real deep freeze lies ahead, when the full weight of the Great Plains winter descends on their nylon tents and teepees, per the AP. Life-threatening wind chills and towering snow drifts could mean the greatest challenge is simple survival. Yet demonstrators insist they will stay for as long as it takes to divert the $3.8 billion pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe believes threatens sacred sites and a river that provides drinking water for millions of people.
The pipeline is largely complete except for a short segment that is planned to pass beneath a Missouri River reservoir. The company doing the building says it is unwilling to reroute the project. For several months, the government permitted the gathering, allowing its population to swell to several thousand at times. The Seven Council Fires camp now covers a half square mile, with living quarters that include old school buses, fancy motorhomes, and domelike yurts. Mountains of donated food and water are being stockpiled, as is firewood, while a collection of Army surplus tents with heating stoves serve as common areas. "A lot of these people have been living in this climate for hundreds of years," says one protester. "It's a skill set that can be learned. The danger is escalating from law enforcement, not the weather."