Frozen harvest leaves bitter taste for U.S. sugar beet farmers

By Rod Nickel

HALLOCK, Minn. (Reuters) – Weather during harvest season in the U.S. Red River Valley, a fertile sugar beet region in Minnesota and North Dakota, has to farmers felt like a series of plagues.

Rain and snow pelted crops in September and October. That was followed by a blizzard, and then warm temperatures that left fields a boggy mess. Next came a deep freeze, ruining the underground sugar beet crop, and dealing a harsh blow to farm incomes.

“I can take a couple of perils from Mother Nature and after that I’m on my knees,” said Dan Younggren, 59, who was unable to harvest 500 acres (200 hectares) of sugar beets, or 40% of his plantings near Hallock, Minnesota. “We’ve never had a situation like this.”

Extreme weather has hampered planting and harvesting of corn, soybeans, and other crops throughout 2019 across the United States and Canadian farm belts.

But in Minnesota and North Dakota, which accounted for 56% of the U.S. sugar beet acres this year, the freeze is a double whammy.

Sugar beet growers’ contracts with processors, which operate as farmer-owned cooperatives, require those who leave unharvested acres to pay a fee to the cooperative so it can pay its bills in leaner years.

Younggren’s five-generation farm must pay American Crystal Sugar a fixed cost of $343 for every unharvested acre, totaling roughly $171,500 to be docked from payments for beets he did harvest.

On Monday, the U.S. government authorized the import of an additional 100,000 short tons of Mexican refined sugar due to the harvest issues. The United States is the world’s third-largest sugar importer after Indonesia and China, buying 2.8 million tonnes in 2018-19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Producers Western Sugar Cooperative and United Sugars Corp issued force majeure notices this month. Other processors also face a difficult winter.

At American Crystal Sugar’s factory in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, farmer David Thompson circled the yard in his pickup, surveying snow-covered mounds of sugar beets.

“Normally this time of year you would see piles everywhere,” said Thompson, who left 170 acres unharvested. “This is heart-wrenching for me to see the yards this empty.”

American Crystal, the largest U.S. sugar beet processor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Cargill Inc, one of the largest U.S. refined sugar suppliers, has adequate supply of cane sugar for its Louisiana refinery, but may import more sugar if customers need it due to the poor beet harvest, said Chad Cliff, the company’s global sugar product line lead.

Crop insurance will compensate farmers for some of their yield loss, but there is no program that will allow them to recoup the fixed cost fees, said Thompson.

It is too soon to know the extent of crop damage, said Luther Markwart, executive vice-president of Washington-based American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Farmers could potentially seek assistance under the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program, which farmers have not used before for field crops damaged by rain and cold, he said.

In towns across the Red River Valley, the sugar farm disaster has left few people untouched.

“It’s going to affect everyone from the grocery store to the restaurant to the liquor store,” said Chip Olson, the part-time mayor of Drayton, North Dakota, population 760.

Many of the town’s residents work in its Crystal Sugar plant, and usually have seasonal jobs until late spring. This year the work will likely run out months earlier, Olson said.

The combination of rains, thaws and the freeze made the beets unusable. Wade Hanson, who grows sugar beets with his family near Crookston, Minnesota, was unable to harvest half of the farm’s plantings, or 500 acres, this year.

“My dad always told me, ‘we always get the beet crop off.’ This year it didn’t happen and that was pretty shocking.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Hallock, Minnesota; Editing by David Gaffen and Marguerita Choy)

On the front lines: Trade war sinks North Dakota soybean farmers

Paul and Vanessa Kummer check the soybeans on their farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

By Karl Plume

COLFAX, North Dakota (Reuters) – North Dakota bet bigger on Chinese soybean demand than any other U.S. state.

The industry here – on the far northwestern edge of the U.S. farm belt, close to Pacific ports – spent millions on grain storage and rail-loading infrastructure while boosting plantings by five-fold in 20 years.

Now, as the world’s top soybean importer shuns the U.S. market for a second growing season, Dakota farmers are reeling from the loss of the customer they spent two decades cultivating.

The state’s experience underscores the uneven impact of the U.S.-China trade war across the United States. Although China’s tariffs target many heartland states that, like North Dakota, supported President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, those further south and east are better able to shift surplus soybeans to other markets such as Mexico and Europe. They also have more processing plants to produce soymeal, along with larger livestock and poultry industries to consume it.

For North Dakota, losing China – the buyer of about 70% of the state’s soybeans – has destroyed a staple source of income. Agriculture is North Dakota’s largest industry, surpassing energy and representing about 25% of its economy.

“North Dakota has probably taken a bigger hit than anybody else from the trade situation with China,” said Jim Sutter, CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

In its second-quarter agricultural credit conditions survey this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said 74% of respondents in North Dakota reported lower net farm income.

China shut the door to all U.S. agricultural purchases on Aug. 5 after Trump intensified the conflict with threats to impose additional tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, some as soon as Sept. 1.

Some farmers were relying on the Trump administration’s $28 billion in farm aid payments to compensate them for trade war losses, only to be disappointed with new payment rates for counties in North Dakota.

The rates are below those for some southern states that rely much less on exports to China. The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined other states had a higher “level of exposure” to tariffs than North Dakota because they also grow other crops, such as cotton and sorghum, that were hit by Chinese tariffs, according to a brief written statement from the USDA in response to questions from Reuters.

With record soy supplies still in storage and another crop to be harvested soon, farmers in the U.S. soybean state with the best access to ports serving China are unable to sell their crops at a profit.

Rail shippers would normally send more than 90 percent of the North Dakota soybeans they buy to Pacific Northwest export terminals. Now they are trying unsuccessfully to make up the shortfall by hauling corn, wheat and other crops with limited demand. Some are moving soybeans south and east to domestic users, a costlier endeavor that ultimately thins margins for both shippers and farmers.

LOST DEMAND

Soy farmers who planted this spring – when the White House was talking up a nearly finished trade deal with China – watched as those trade talks collapsed in May, sending prices well below their costs of production.

Vanessa Kummer checks the quality of their 2018 soybean crops on the family farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

Vanessa Kummer checks the quality of their 2018 soybean crops on the family farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan KoeckVanessa Kummer’s farm in Colfax, North Dakota, has yet to sell a single soybean from the fall harvest because of the low prices. Normally, the farm would have forward-sold 50% to 75% of the upcoming harvest.

 

Vanessa Kummer’s farm in Colfax, North Dakota, has yet to sell a single soybean from the fall harvest because of the low prices. Normally, the farm would have forward-sold 50% to 75% of the upcoming harvest

She fears the U.S.-China soy trade is now “permanently damaged” as China shifts its purchases to Brazil, uses less soy in animal feed and consumes less pork as African swine fever kills of millions of the nation’s pigs.

“It will take years to get back to any semblance of what we had over in China,” Kummer said, standing in a sparse field of ankle-high soy plants, where two weeks earlier she hosted a delegation of soy importers from Ecuador and Peru.

Though it is the No. 4 soy state overall, North Dakota is home to two of the top three U.S. soy producing counties in the nation.

Options for North Dakota farmers are limited. U.S. wheat has been losing export market share for years. Demand for specialty crops such as peas and lentils, which grow well in the northern U.S., has been dampened by retaliatory tariffs imposed by India, a major importer of both products.

ROOTS OF DEPENDENCE

North Dakota’s farmers never set out to become so dependent on a single buyer of one crop. But with wheat profits shrinking and Chinese demand for soy growing, soybeans increasingly seemed like the obvious choice.

Companies including Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF expanded rail capacity to open up a West Coast shipping corridor, and Pacific Northwest seaports expanded to handle more exports to China. Seed companies offered North Dakota farmers new varieties that allowed soybeans to thrive in the state’s colder climate and shorter growing season.

A $200 million crop two decades ago blossomed into a $2 billion crop, topping the value of wheat, once North Dakota’s top crop.

The number of high-speed shuttle train loading terminals in North Dakota tripled from about 20 in 2007 to more than 60 currently, according to industry data, with investments totaling at least $800 million.

But one of those facilities, CHS Dakota Plains Ag elevator in Kindred, North Dakota, has gone three or four months without loading a soybean train this year, said Doug Lingen, a grain merchant there. Normally the elevator would load at least one train a month with beans bound for the Pacific Northwest.

LIMPING ALONG

The drop in demand has soybean prices in North Dakota trading at a historic discount to U.S. futures prices, and farmers are putting investments on hold.

Justin Sherlock, who grows corn, soybeans and other crops near Dazey, North Dakota, had been planning to buy a used grain drier this year for around $100,000 to $150,000, passing on a new one that would be at least $350,000.

But an uncertain future has now shelved those plans, even with the latest promise for government aid. According to rates published last month, farmers in Sherlock’s county can apply for aid of $55 per acre, well below the maximum $150 rate offered in 22 counties nationwide.

Sherlock called the latest announcement “disappointing.”

“I’m just going to defer all my investment,” he said, “and try to limp along for a few years.”

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago, additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

More U.S. states push ahead with near-bans on abortion for Supreme Court challenge

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on Wednesday making it a crime for doctors to perform a second-trimester abortion using instruments like forceps and clamps to remove the fetus from the womb.

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

The move came the same day that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans – outlawing the procedure if a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature in March also passed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Activists on both sides of the issue say such laws, which are commonly blocked by court injunctions, are aimed at getting a case sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The North Dakota bill, which Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, confirmed in an email that the governor signed, followed similar laws in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Known as HB 1546, it outlaws the second-trimester abortion practice known in medical terms as dilation and evacuation, but which the legislation refers to as “human dismemberment.”

Under the North Dakota legislation, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony but the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Similar legislation exists in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, but is on hold because of litigation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group.

Abortion-rights groups challenging such bans argue they are unconstitutional as they obstruct private medical rights.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She previously said her clinic would wait for a decision in a case involving similar legislation in Arkansas before deciding on a possible legal challenge to HB 1546.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Newborn killed, dozens hurt by North Dakota tornado

Damage from F2 tornado in Watford City, North Dakota, when tornado caused widespread destruction

(Reuters) – A tornado killed a seven-day-old baby and injured more than two dozen people when it ripped through a trailer park in North Dakota and forecasters warned that parts of the Midwestern United States could face more twisters on Wednesday.

The tornado, with wind speeds around 127 miles per hour (204 kph), hit a trailer home park on Tuesday in the southwest part of Watford City, North Dakota, about 180 miles (290 km) northwest of Bismarck, destroying many mobile homes, the National Weather Service said.

A male baby was severely injured when the storm hit his family’s home and later died in hospital, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement late on Tuesday. The office did not identify the baby.

NWS weather forecaster Marc Chenard warned that tornadoes could hit portions of central and northern Minnesota and portions of western Wisconsin on Wednesday.

“There’s a threat of a few tornadoes and potential of large hail and a threat of flash flooding for the same areas mainly from this evening into early Thursday,” Chenard said.

About 28 trailer park residents were also injured when the storm hit Watford City. They were taken to McKenzie County Hospital, with at least three being transported by aircraft and six listed in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

A representative from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Severe wind threats will shift south by Thursday and threats of storms will then impact portions of southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and central Wisconsin. Chenard said that the storm has moved out of the North Dakota area.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum visited Watford City on Tuesday to survey areas hit by the tornado. He met with local officials and people who were displaced by the storm and were staying in local shelters, the governor’s office said in a statement.

The NWS rated the North Dakota tornado an EF-2, the second-strongest on the five-step Enhanced Fujita scale.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry)

Dakota protesters regroup, plot resistance to other pipelines

A man warms up by a fire in Sacred Stone camp, one of the few remaining camps protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang

By Terray Sylvester

CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) – Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline who were pushed out of their protest camp this week have vowed to keep up efforts to stop the multibillion-dollar project and take the fight to other pipelines as well.

The Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, was cleared by law enforcement on Thursday and almost 50 people, many of them Native Americans and environmental activists, were arrested.

The number of demonstrators had dwindled from the thousands who poured into the camp starting in August to oppose the pipeline that critics say threatens the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe has said it intends to fight the pipeline in court.

The 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line, built by Energy Transfer Partners LP, will move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located.

Tonya Olsen, 46, an Ihanktonwan Sioux from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who had lived at the camp for 3-1/2 months, said she was saddened by the eviction but proud of the protesters.

She has moved to another nearby camp on Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation land, across the Cannon Ball River.

“A lot of people will take what they’ve learned from this movement and take it to another one,” Olsen said. She may join a protest if one forms against the Keystone XL pipeline near the Lower Brulé Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, she added.

Tom Goldtooth, a protest leader and executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said the demonstrators’ hearts were not defeated.

“The closing of the camp is not the end of a movement or fight, it is a new beginning,” Goldtooth said in a statement on Thursday. “They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started.”

Many hope their fight against the project will spur similar protests targeting pipelines across the United States and Canada, particularly those routed near Native American land.

“The embers are going to be carried all over the place,” said Forest Borie, 34, a protester from Tijuana, Mexico, who spent four months in North Dakota.

“This is going to be a revolutionary year,” he added.

NEXT TARGETS

Borie wants to go next to Canada to help the Unist’ot’en Native American Tribe in their long-running opposition to pipelines in British Columbia.

Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company constructing the Dakota Access pipeline, is already facing pushback from a diverse base of opposition in Louisiana, where it is planning to expand its Bayou Bridge pipeline.

Other projects mentioned by protesters as possible next stops include the Sabal Trail pipeline being built to transport natural gas from eastern Alabama to central Florida, and Energy Transfer Partners’ Trans-Pecos in West Texas. Sabal Trail is a joint project of Spectra Energy Corp, NextEra Energy Inc and Duke Energy Corp.

Another protest is focused on Plains All American Pipeline’s Diamond Pipeline, which will run from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Valero Energy Corp’s Memphis refinery in Tennessee.

Anthony Gazotti, 47, from Denver, said he will stay on reservation land until he is forced out. Despite construction resuming on the Dakota pipeline, he said the protest was a success because it had raised awareness of pipeline issues nationwide.

“It’s never been about just stopping that pipeline,” he said.

June Sapiel, a 47-year-old member of the Penobscot Tribe in Penobscot, Maine, also rejected the idea that the protesters in North Dakota had failed.

“It’s waking people up,” she said in front of a friend’s yurt where she has been staying. “We’re going to go out there and just keep doing it.”

(Additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago and Liz Hampton in Houston; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Dakota pipeline protest camp nearly empty as holdouts face removal

Buildings burn after being set alight by protesters preparing to evacuate the main opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) – All but a few dozen of the last holdouts from a months-long mass protest against a proposed oil pipeline in North Dakota peacefully vacated their riverside camp as an eviction deadline passed on Wednesday.

“We’ve very firm that the camp is now closed,” Governor Doug Burgum, a Republican, told an evening news conference.

Following Wednesday’s exodus, Burgum estimated there were 25 to 50 protesters left. He said they were still free to leave voluntarily so long as they did not interfere with cleanup crews scheduled to enter the site at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

The encampment has stood since August on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, about 40 miles south of Bismarck, the state capital.

Protesters calling themselves “water protectors” have rallied there against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the reservation, saying the project poses a threat to water resources and sacred tribal sites.

Dubbed the Oceti Sakowin camp, the site became a focal point for U.S. environmental activists and Native Americans expressing indigenous rights, drawing some 5,000 to 10,000 protesters at the height of the movement in early December.

Most have drifted since away, as tribal leaders urged people to leave due to harsh winter weather, while pressing their opposition to the pipeline in court. Roughly 300 demonstrators had remained until this week.

Protesters and police have clashed multiple times since August, with more than 700 arrests tallied.

On Wednesday authorities appeared intent on avoiding clashes, though 10 arrests were made as protesters confronted police in riot gear on a highway outside the camp entrance before the officers retreated around nightfall.

President Donald Trump has pushed for completion of the pipeline since he took office last month, signing an executive order that reversed an Obama administration decision and cleared the way for the $3.8 billion project to proceed.

Two tribes earlier this month lost a legal bid to halt construction. The pipeline is due to be complete and ready for oil by April 1, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

DEADLINE ON THE RIVER

Burgum and the Army Corps of Engineers had set Wednesday’s deadline for protesters to leave, citing hazards posed by impending spring floods along the Cannonball River.

The governor said the handful of demonstrators who remained needed to make way for crews set to expand a cleanup that began weeks ago to remove mounds of garbage, debris, human waste and dozens of abandoned vehicles.

At least three dozen protesters could be seen gathering near the camp entrance as the afternoon eviction deadline passed, and a few dozen others were believed lingering elsewhere at the site. Some vowed to stay put.

“I feel as though now is the time to stand our ground,” said Alethea Phillips, 17, a demonstrator from Michigan who had spent three months at the camp.

Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux member, said closing the camp would not dampen his determination.

“You can’t arrest a movement. You can’t arrest a spiritual revolution,” he said.

Activists set off fireworks on Wednesday morning, and as freezing rain and snow fell, some demonstrators ceremonially burned tents and other structures at the camp.

State officials said protesters had set about 20 fires, and that two youngsters – a 7-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl – were taken to a Bismarck hospital for burns after two explosions occurred, the governor said.

Authorities have set up an assistance center to provide departing protesters with food, water and medical check-ups, as well as a voucher for one night’s hotel stay and a bus ride home.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Cannon Ball, North Dakota and Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Diane Craft and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Showdown looms for protesters near site of Dakota Access pipeline

Tipis are seen on the outskirts of the protest camp. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) – Demonstrators near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline braced for a showdown with authorities on Wednesday, as protest leaders said at least some would defy a deadline to abandon the camp they have occupied for months to halt the project.

Native Americans and environmental activists have said the multibillion-dollar pipeline threatens the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but President Donald Trump has quickly pushed for the completion of the pipeline since taking office last month.

Governor Doug Burgum and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set a deadline of Wednesday afternoon for demonstrators to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on Army Corps land in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Despite the deadline, some will remain, camp leaders said on Tuesday.

“Everybody plans to be in camp tomorrow up until the 2 o’clock mark. Then people will make their individual decisions about what their level of commitment is,” Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said by telephone. “Some will get arrested.”

Protesters and law enforcement have clashed multiple times and hundreds have been arrested since demonstrations began in August.

The Standing Rock Sioux asked protesters to depart from the site in December as they continued to fight the pipeline in court, but some 300 demonstrators have remained.

Law enforcement officials were urging people to leave the camp ahead of Wednesday’s deadline and remove anything that could be damaged during cleanup efforts.

“We really would like them (protesters) to get the culturally sensitive items out so when they bulldoze and clean out the camp they aren’t dealing with any of those things,” said Maxine Herr, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

Just days after taking office in January, Trump, a Republican, signed an executive order clearing the way for the $3.8 billion pipeline to proceed.

A judge denied a request earlier this month by two tribes seeking to halt construction, which resumed. The tribes are seeking an injunction to order the Army Corps to withdraw the easement.

Burgum, a Republican, has warned that spring floods pose a threat to the remaining protesters as well as the waters of the Missouri River.

Over 200 dumpsters of debris has been removed from the site since cleanup efforts began last month, said Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for the governor.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Cannon Ball, North Dakota and Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown)

Governor orders evacuation of Dakota pipeline protest camp

police vehicles sit on outskirts of protest camp in North Dakota

(Reuters) – The governor of North Dakota ordered protesters on Wednesday to evacuate a demonstration camp near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the latest move to clear the area that has served as a base for opposition to the multibillion dollar project.

Republican Doug Burgum ordered demonstrators to leave the camp located on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by Feb. 22, citing safety concerns that have arisen due to accelerated snowmelt and rising water levels of the nearby Cannonball River.

Burgum also said in his executive order that the camp poses an environmental danger to the surrounding area. His order reaffirms a Feb. 22 deadline set by the Army Corps for the demonstrators to clean up and leave.

Environmentalists and Native Americans who have opposed the pipeline, saying it threatens water resources and sacred sites, have faced a series of set-backs since President Donald Trump took office in January.

A federal judge on Monday denied a request by Native American tribes seeking to halt construction of the final link of the $3.8 billion pipeline after the Corps of Engineers granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners LP last week.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in CHICAGO and Brendan O’Brien in MILWAUKEE; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Construction resumes on Dakota pipeline despite tribe’s challenge

police vehicles monitoring construction of pipeline

By Terray Sylvester and Liz Hampton

CANNON BALL, N.D./HOUSTON (Reuters) – The company building an oil pipeline that has fueled sustained public protests said on Thursday it has started drilling under a North Dakota lake despite a last-ditch legal challenge from a Native American tribe leading the opposition.

Energy Transfer Partners LP <ETP.N> is building the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to move crude from the Northern Plains to the Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico, now saying it could be operational by early May.

The project had been put on hold under the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama, but new President Donald Trump, a Republican, helped put it back on track.

The federal government this week cleared way for the project to resume, leading the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to file a court challenge on Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order to halt construction and drilling for the pipeline.

The court set oral arguments on the legal challenge for Monday.

Legal experts say the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt construction,

Energy Transfer Partners needs only to cross beneath Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to connect a final 1,100-foot (335 meter) gap in the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) pipeline, which will move oil from the Bakken shale formation to a terminus in Patoka, Illinois.

From there the oil would flow to another pipeline connecting south-central Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and that region’s numerous oil refineries.

Native American tribes and climate activists have vowed to fight the pipeline, fearing it will desecrate sacred sites and endanger a source of the country’s largest drinking water reservoir.

“This administration (Trump’s) has expressed utter and complete disregard for not only our treaty and water rights, but the environment as a whole,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said on Thursday in a statement on its website.

Supporters say the pipeline will be safer than transporting oil by rail or road, and industry leaders have praised the project for creating high-paying jobs

With work on the final tranche now under way, Energy Transfer Partners expects the Dakota Access Pipeline to begin operations in approximately 83 days, according to a company spokeswoman.

“We have started to drill to go beneath Lake Oahe and expect to be completed in 60 days with another 23 days to fill the line to Patoka,” spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email.

She declined to specify when drilling began except that it was after the company received federal permission on Wednesday.

Public opposition drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains last year including high-profile political and celebrity supporters. Large protest camps popped up near the site, leading to several violent clashes and some 700 arrests.

A few hardy protesters have remained camped out near the lake, braving sub-freezing temperatures.

Among them is Frank Archambault, 45, who has lived in the camp since August when he left his home on the Standing Rock reservation.

“It angers me. It angers me because people are pushing other people around, breaking laws,” Archambault said. “They’re trying to kill us off by contaminating the water. We’ve had enough.”

Ptery Light, 55, of Portland, Oregon, who has lived in the main camp since Oct. 31, said he was not giving up hope.

“I just pray that there’s no oil spill,” Light said. “This is purely about greed.”

For now, their hopes are pinned on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe winning a legal victory.

To obtain the temporary restraining order, the tribe must convince the judge there will be immediate harm suffered and prove it has a strong overall case should its lawsuit to halt the project result in a full trial.

The U.S. district judge in the case, James Boasberg, previously rejected the tribe’s request to block the project, ruling in September that the Army Corps of Engineers likely complied with the law in permitting the pipeline to go forward.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in New York)

North Dakota tribe says running out of options to stop pipeline

Protesters raise a banner regarding Dakota Access Pipeline

By Ernest Scheyder and Terray Sylvester

HOUSTON/CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) – The leader of a Native American tribe attempting to block the Dakota Access oil pipeline said on Wednesday the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe may have exhausted legal options to stop the project after the company building it won federal permission to tunnel under the Missouri River.

Legal experts agreed the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt the $3.8 billion project led by Energy Transfer Partners LP, which could now begin operation as soon as June.

The U.S. Army said on Wednesday it had granted the final permit for the pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project. The army owns the land through its Corps of Engineers.

“We’re running out of options, but that doesn’t mean that it’s over,” David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “We’re still going to continue to look at all legal options available to us.”

Native American tribes and climate activists have vowed to fight the pipeline, fearing it will desecrate sacred sites and endanger drinking water. Supporters say the pipeline is safer than rail or trucks to transport the oil.

The 1,170-mile (1,885-km) line will move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located.

Public opposition has drawn thousands of people to the North Dakota plains, including high-profile political and celebrity supporters. Large protest camps popped up near the site, leading to several violent clashes and some 600 arrests.

The opposition sensed victory last year when the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, delayed completion of the pipeline pending a review of tribal concerns and in December ordered an environmental study.

But those fortunes were reversed after Trump, a Republican, took office on Jan. 20. Trump issued an order on Jan. 24 to expedite both the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and to revive another multibillion-dollar oil artery, Keystone XL. The Obama administration had blocked that project in 2015.

On Wednesday, some 350 people converged in lower Manhattan, hoisting signs such as “Water is Life,” “Dump Trump” and “Respect Native Sovereignty.”

“This isn’t just a Native American problem, this isn’t just an issue over race, this goes way beyond that,” said Matene Strikefirst, who said he is a member of the tribe of Ojibwe and Dakota. “We need to get over our dependence on fossil fuels; we need to ensure drinking water for everyone.”

Another 100 gathered near the White House, denouncing

Trump.

“We know there is going to be bloodshed,” said Eryn Wise, spokeswoman for the International Indigenous Youth Council.

“This is cultural genocide,” said Linda Black Elk, a resident of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

BIG HURDLE

In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said it would allow the final section of the DAPL to tunnel under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion.

The tribe said on Wednesday it would attempt to use a “legal battle and temporary restraining order” to shut down pipeline operations.

But Wayne D’Angelo, an energy and environmental lawyer with Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, said he believed the Trump administration was on “pretty solid legal ground.”

The tribe would have to prove a very difficult standard: that approval for the pipeline was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion or inconsistent with the record before the agency,” D’Angelo said.

The protest camps dwindled after the Obama administration ordered the environmental review in December as the tribe urged people to leave due to concerns about trash buildup in a flood plain.

But a few holdouts have remained, including some who braved temperatures of minus 9 Fahrenheit (minus 23 C) on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Brendan Pierson and Tina Bellon in New York and Tom Ramstack in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)