By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge was expected to decide on Tuesday whether to temporarily halt construction of an oil pipeline in parts of North Dakota where a Native American tribe says it has ancient burial and prayer sites.
After violent clashes over the weekend between protesters and security officers near the construction site, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and a neighboring Native American tribe asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sunday for a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access, the company building the pipeline.
Dakota Access filed its opposition to the tribes’ request early on Tuesday, accusing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of provoking the violence and breaking the law in trying to stop the pipeline.
A group of firms led by Energy Transfer Partners is building the 1,100-mile (1,770-km) pipeline. The $3.7-billion project would be the first to bring crude oil from Bakken shale, a vast oil formation in North Dakota, directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Dakota Access, the limited liability company carrying out the actual construction, had planned for the pipeline to be operational by the fourth quarter of this year, but construction has been dogged since April by protests in North Dakota.
The weekend protests were triggered, the tribes said, when the pipeline company used bulldozers on Saturday to destroy sacred tribal sites whose locations had been identified in court documents filed on Friday.
Dakota Access said in its reply to the requested restraining order that the bulldozers were operating under the company’s pre-planned construction schedule and did not destroy any important historical sites.
The tribes want Dakota Access restrained from working on areas of “significant cultural and historic value,” pending a judge’s decision on an injunction they requested last month. It asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the pipeline project in July, to withdraw permits for the project.
The federal judge overseeing the case has said in court hearings that he would decide whether or not to grant the injunction by Sept. 9, according to local media reports.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not oppose the tribes’ motion on Sunday for the temporary restraining order. The agency said in a court document filed on Sunday that “the public interest would be served by preserving peace” until the judge issues a ruling on the injunction.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)