Decision on Dakota Access pipeline due in next few days

Tipi at sunset protesting against Dakota Access Pipeline

By Stephanie Keith

MANDAN, N.D. (Reuters) – A decision on whether the Dakota Access Pipeline will be allowed to tunnel under a lake near sacred tribal lands in North Dakota will come in the next few days, possibly by Monday, a U.S. government spokeswoman said on Friday.

The statement by spokeswoman Amy Gaskill of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came as police again confronted protesters at a construction site on the controversial pipeline, which has drawn steady opposition from Native American and environmental activists since the summer.

At least 39 protesters were arrested on Friday at the construction site, and deputies took pictures of vandalized equipment, which had wires cut and was spray-painted, Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said.

She said police confronted about 100 protesters at the scene.

Smoke was seen billowing from a large excavation machine near a site off Route 6 in rural North Dakota, and protesters had also climbed into other equipment, according to a Reuters witness. Two workers were seen leaving the scene.

Completion of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, set to run 1,172 miles (1,885 km) from North Dakota to Illinois, was delayed in September so federal authorities could re-examine permits required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans called for the pipeline to pass under a federally owned water source, Lake Oahe, and to skirt the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation by about a half-mile (one km). Most of the construction has been completed, save for this area under the lake.

The Standing Rock tribe and environmental activists said the project would threaten water supplies and sacred Native American sites and ultimately contribute to climate change.

The Obama administration requested a voluntary halt to construction within 20 miles of the lake on each side.

Energy Transfer Partners <ETP.N>, which owns the line, continued to build to the edge of the federal land where the lake is located.

The company earlier this week said it was “mobilizing” drilling equipment to prepare to tunnel under the lake. That has angered protesters, who planned more protests in coming days.

An ETP spokeswoman said, “Construction is actually complete in North Dakota, except for the bore under the lake, so there is nothing for them to stop.”

Pipeline supporters say the project offers the fastest and most direct route for bringing Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and would be safer than transporting the oil by road or rail.

(Reporting by Stephanie Keith in Mandan, North Dakota; additional reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. government mulling alternate routes for North Dakota pipeline

A North Dakota law enforcement officers stands next to two armored vehicles just beyond the police barricade on Highway 1806 near a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site.

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has weighed in on the ongoing protests against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota, saying the U.S. government is examining ways to reroute it and address concerns raised by Native American tribes.

Obama’s comments late on Tuesday to online news site Now This were his first to directly address the escalating clashes between local authorities and protesters over Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline project.

“My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama said in the video interview.

The U.S. Justice and Interior Departments along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of part of the pipeline in September due to protests by Native American tribes who contend the pipeline would disturb sacred land and pollute waterways supplying nearby homes. The affected area includes land under Lake Oahe, a large and culturally important reservoir on the Missouri River where the line was supposed to cross.

Construction is continuing on sections of the pipeline away from the Missouri River, U.S. refiner Phillips 66 said.

Obama said government agencies will let the situation “play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans.”

The fight against the pipeline has drawn international attention and growing celebrity support amid confrontations between riot police and protesters.

The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline, being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners, would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

At a Sept. 27 White House summit for tribal nations, Obama did not directly comment on plans to deal with the pipeline protests but acknowledged the swell of support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

“This moment highlights why it’s so important that we redouble our efforts to make sure that every federal agency truly consults and listens and works with you, sovereign to sovereign,” he said at the event.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Will Dunham)

White House seeks improved tribal relations as pipeline fight lingers

Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, in Los Angeles

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The leaders of hundreds of Native American tribes will meet with President Barack Obama at his eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference at the White House next week, while thousands of activists are encamped on the North Dakota prairie protesting a $3.7 billion oil pipeline.

The conference, designed to improve the relationship between Washington and the tribes, offers the last chance for this administration to hear from tribal leaders about the shortcomings of the current consultation system, which has been a source of conflict over the pipeline and other projects.

Federal agencies take different approaches to consulting with the tribes.

Obama, who will leave office in January, likely wants to do what he can before his term ends to fix the consultation system.

The North Dakota encampment represents the largest Native American protest in decades.

Along with environmentalists, the tribes say the 1,100-mile (1,886-km) Dakota Access pipeline, being developed by Energy Transfer Partners LP &lt;ETP.N&gt;, would threaten the water supply and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux.

The administration stepped in unexpectedly on Sept. 9 to temporarily block construction of the pipeline and called for “a serious discussion” about how the tribes are consulted by the government in decisions on major infrastructure projects.

“There are going to be hundreds of tribes interested in this consultation process. It will not be easy logistically, politically or substantively,” said Gabe Galanda, an attorney in Seattle who represents tribal governments.


At present, the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages many infrastructure projects for the government, takes one approach to consulting Native American tribes. The Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs take another. Laws overlap.

The result can be confusion and sometimes anger, as with Dakota Access, said Bryan Newland, a lawyer and former adviser to the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Interior Department until 2012.

A goal of the upcoming discussions will likely be simply to clarify what is meant by “consultation.”

The Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs tend to hold face-to-face bilateral meetings with tribal leaders. The Corps often is accused of “checking marks on a checklist and moving on with what the developer intends to do,” said Galanda.

Ron His Horse is Thunder, spokesman for the Standing Rock Sioux, said: “There’s an issue between what the Corps believes is consultation and what the tribe believes is consultation.”

Before the Dakota Access protest erupted, tribe members voiced specific concerns with the government about the proximity of the pipeline to sacred burial sites, but these concerns were ignored, according to His Horse is Thunder.

But Amy Gaskill, public affairs chief for the Corps’ northwest division, said the tribe canceled several scheduled meetings. This was documented in a judge’s decision to reject the tribe’s request for an injunction, she said.

“We redoubled our efforts to work with the tribe to make sure their voice was heard in the process,” Gaskill said.

Energy Transfer Partners said last week it remained committed to the pipeline project, which had been slated to begin carrying oil south from the Bakken shale field by the end of 2016.


Sixteen years ago, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order requiring agencies to consult with Native Americans on matters affecting them. Obama in 2009 issued a memo intended to strengthen consultations with the tribes.

But doing that requires constant attention, said David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of the Interior under Clinton and Obama. “It is the kind of thing that requires diligence in terms of federal officials ensuring they are not simply treating tribes like any other stakeholder,” Hayes said.

Some agencies do not treat the tribes as sovereign nations, as they should under law, said Wizipan Garriott Little Elk, a former Department of Interior official.

“So often you see the agency request the consultation with the president of a tribal nation, but the agency will send a low-level bureaucrat to the meeting and simply check off the consultation box,” Garriott said.

The Corps also weighs a narrower geographic scope for projects than other agencies, so it can overlook impacts outside the immediate range of a reservation, Newland said.

Talks between tribal leaders and the administration are likely to expose a consultation system that makes tribes feel disadvantaged, said Emily Mallen, a lawyer with Van Ness Feldman specializing in pipelines.

“It is unknown how the federal government might seek to resolve this issue. The only thing that is sure is that the tribal consultation process will likely see significant changes as a result,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Ruthy Munoz in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Matthew Lewis)