Mexico’s fuel thieves undeterred by deadly blast

A general view shows the site where a fuel pipeline, ruptured by suspected oil thieves, exploded in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan, state of Hidalgo, Mexico January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By David Alire Garcia

TLAHUELILPAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Days after a fireball erupted near the Mexican town of Tlahuelilpan, killing at least 117 people pilfering gasoline from a pipeline, the area’s fuel bandits were back in business.

Illegal taps, some of them newly opened, were the giveaway that fuel was flowing again. Soldiers patrolling this area in central Mexico after the Jan. 18 tragedy told Reuters they found 15 illicit spigots just a few kilometers away on the same pipeline operated by the nation’s state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos or Pemex.

In one spot, Reuters saw a freshly dug hole leading to a shiny valve attached to the pipeline lying about a meter underground. Nearby were discarded plastic hoses, snack wrappers, an empty pack of cigarettes and a blanket still wet with gasoline.

Such is the mammoth task confronting President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has vowed to end Mexico’s rampant fuel theft. The practice is depriving the government of badly needed tax revenue; it cost Pemex an estimated $3 billion last year alone.

Security experts say small-time thieves, organized crime gangs and corrupt Pemex employees all have a hand in the trade. The crudest operators hack into pipelines to siphon gasoline and diesel, often at night in rural outposts. They then resell it to gas station owners, at roadside stands and in open-air markets.

A Pemex spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In December, Lopez Obrador announced a crackdown on the banditry. To thwart pipeline taps, he ordered Pemex to transport some fuel overland in tanker trucks. The result: widespread shortages and long lines at gas stations.

A sign warning of a pipeline is seen at the site where a fuel pipeline, ruptured by suspected oil thieves, exploded in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan, state of Hidalgo, Mexico January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

A sign warning of a pipeline is seen at the site where a fuel pipeline, ruptured by suspected oil thieves, exploded in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan, state of Hidalgo, Mexico January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The bottlenecks have eased. But fuel theft is so endemic that the culture will be hard to break, even in Tlahuelilpan.

An estimated 800 of the town’s residents, many carrying buckets, had flocked to a nearby pipeline when word spread on social media that a large pool of gasoline had sprung from a bootleg tap. Dozens were killed when the gas ignited; scores more were badly burned.

Marcelino Valdez, a Catholic priest in Tlahuelilpan, said in between funerals that many here support Lopez Obrador. But he doubted the president’s strategy would yield quick results in an area where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty, according to government data.

“The people don’t like to steal, it’s not something they enjoy,” Valdez said. “But they look up and see so much corruption, so much injustice, and they see that their hands are empty.”



Hidalgo state, where Tlahuelilpan is located, is the nation’s leader in illicit breaches of Pemex pipelines. Fuel thieves known as huachicoleros last year drilled a record 2,121 illegal taps in the state, or nearly six each day, according to Pemex data. That is more than a six-fold increase in just two years.

Oil industry experts say Hidalgo’s location is a big reason. Situated to the north of the Mexican capital, the state is home to Pemex’s second-biggest oil refinery and critical pipelines supplying the giant Mexico City metro area.

Fuel prices are a factor too. At the start of 2017, the government of then-President Enrique Pena Nieto hiked prices by as much as 20 percent in a bid to end costly subsidies, a move many in Tlahuelilpan say is driving theft.

Since Lopez Obrador’s term began on Dec. 1, the government says it has arrested 558 people accused of stealing fuel. It has frozen bank accounts and deployed soldiers to guard key Pemex installations, including the Tula refinery about 9 miles (15 km) southwest of Tlahuelilpan.

While organized crime is a big player, the president has reserved particular disdain for Pemex, blaming crooked company insiders for much of the illicit trade.

“We’re talking about a plan that has ties inside the government,” he said during a Dec. 27 press conference.

Juan Pedro Cruz, mayor of Tlahuelilpan, likewise is suspicious of Pemex employees. He told Reuters he visited the site of an illegal pipeline tap shortly after he was elected in 2016. Cruz said he watched as Pemex workers carefully covered up the tap without disabling it.

“What message did that send to me?” Cruz said. “They were going to use it again.”

Cruz has faced questions too. Following the January accident, news reports linked him to a local warehouse that once was used to store stolen fuel. Cruz denied wrongdoing. He said Pemex solicited his help in finding temporary storage for gasoline recovered from crooks.

In addition to arresting fuel thieves, Lopez Obrador has launched a new 3,600 peso ($189) monthly scholarship for unemployed Mexican youth, a program he has pitched as a way to address the root causes of crime.

But some townspeople in Tlahuelilpan doubt it will dissuade many young people from seizing what some see as their only opportunity to get ahead.

Mariano Hernandez, a local math teacher, said some fuel thieves can clear as much as 10,000 pesos ($525) daily.

“They say, ‘I’d rather make a lot of money for one or two years than live many years in poverty,'” Hernandez said.

The president’s steepest challenge may be persuading people such as Magali Ortiz that fuel theft is worthy of such high-profile scrutiny.

Her husband Omar Vasquez died in the conflagration. Two other relatives are missing.

Stealing fuel is “not a crime,” Ortiz said. “It’s a job.”

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Dan Flynn and Marla Dickerson)

Reign of sewage in biblical valley may be coming to an end

Sewage flows in Kidron Valley, on the outskirts of Jerusalem July 6, 2017. Picture taken July 6, 2017.

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – There is a foul smell coming from the biblical Kidron Valley.

It’s so bad that King David and Jesus, who are said to have walked there thousands of years ago, would today need to take a detour to reach Jerusalem.

For decades now a quarter of Jerusalem’s sewage has flowed openly in the Kidron valley, meandering down the city’s foothills and through the Judean desert to the east. At its worst, the pollution leaks into the Dead Sea.

The stream runs back and forth between land under Israeli and Palestinian administration, making a fix hard to find. But finally it seems a solution has been reached.

Authorities on both sides have agreed to drain the valley of sewage. According to the plan, a pipeline will be constructed carrying the wastewater directly to new treatment facilities. Each side will fund and build the section that runs through its territory.

Until that happens, however, about 12 million cubic meters of sewage continue to flow through the valley each year.

“Of course it’s damaging the environment and the ecological system,” said Shony Goldberger, director of the Jerusalem district in Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry.

“It’s dangerous and hazardous to the health of the people in many ways.”

Added to Jerusalem’s sewage along the stream’s 30 km (19 mile) descent through the occupied West Bank is effluent from Bethlehem and nearby Arab villages.

Plants grow anomalously in what should be a dry wadi, animals come to drink, and mounds of baby wipes flushed down thousands of toilets sporadically coagulate along the banks. Sewage seeps into the earth, risking contamination of ground water.

Toward the end of the journey it gathers in a makeshift collection pool and much is used to irrigate date trees, which have a high tolerance for pollutants. But every so often gravity pulls the refuse toward the lowest spot on earth, the Dead Sea.

“It’s like a brown stain,” Goldberger said. “It stays disconnected from most of the salty water of the Dead Sea.”

With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at an impasse, projects that require even minor cross-border coordination seldom get done. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, but under interim peace deals the Palestinians exercise limited self-rule in part of the territory.

“After decades of not being able to solve the problem, for a thousand and one reasons, professional and political, we reached an agreement for building a pipeline in the valley,” Major General Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of the Israeli government’s activities in the West Bank, told Reuters.

The Palestinian Water Authority said the agreement was reached out of an “interest to clean the area,” but emphasized the two sides were working separately.

While they are both are optimistic, some scepticism remains, since similar plans in past never gained traction.

“We were talking about it, planning it, every time it took two, three, four years. You think you have it, and then the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a truck coming at you,” said Goldberger.

“I hope this solution will reach the stage where it is built.”


(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


Some Chase branches in Seattle closed by protests over pipeline loans

Native American leaders and climate activists demonstrate outside of a Chase Bank location, to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Native American leaders and climate activists protested at several Chase branches in Seattle on Monday, forcing them to close temporarily as demonstrators demanded the bank not lend to projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Police said 26 people were arrested by late afternoon. Activists said they disrupted operations at 11 Chase branches, and two other branches closed as well.

Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot, a spokeswoman for Chase, which is a unit of JP Morgan Chase & Co, declined to comment.

At a branch in downtown Seattle, about 50 protesters occupied the main lobby, where they made speeches, sang songs, held signs and banners and even ordered a tall stack of pizzas before police blocked the doors.

At another Seattle branch, a handful of protesters went inside while two others locked themselves by their necks to the front doors with bicycle locks.

“I have a personal responsibility to make sure we have a livable climate,” said a protester who locked herself to the door and would only identify herself as 21-year-old Andrea from Olympia, Washington.

Organizers of the protests aimed to dissuade Chase from lending to the companies behind two major oil infrastructure projects, the Keystone XL pipeline and Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, and tar sands oil production in general. Protesters said they were fighting global warming.

Keystone XL is a project of TransCanada Corp and Trans Mountain Pipeline is a project of Kinder Morgan Inc.

These efforts echo similar efforts with other banks as activists have shifted to targeting the financial backers of the pipelines rather than sites like the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, where thousands protested last year.

Bank are more sensitive to bad publicity than the pipeline companies, said Seattle city council member Mike O’Brien, who participated in one of the protests on Monday.

“It’s a relatively small percentage of their overall portfolio,” protest organizer Ahmed Gaya said of the banks’ stakes in various oil and gas pipelines. “If you can make that very small part … have a vastly disproportionate effect on their public image, that’s very persuasive.”

In April, Citigroup executives conceded they had approved investments in the Dakota pipeline too quickly after a noisy protest at its annual shareholder meeting, while Greenpeace activists protested Credit Suisse’s dealings with companies behind the same pipeline. The previous month, Dutch bank ING Groep agreed to sell its $120 million share of a loan for the Dakota pipeline.

(Reporting by Tom James, Editing by Ben Klayman and Cynthia Osterman)

Last stand: Nebraska farmers could derail Keystone XL pipeline

Art and Helen Tanderup are against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that would cut through the farm where they live near Neligh, Nebraska, U.S. April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom

By Valerie Volcovici

Neligh, NEBRASKA (Reuters) – When President Donald Trump handed TransCanada Pipeline Co. a permit for its Keystone XL pipeline last month, he said the company could now build the long-delayed and divisive project “with efficiency and with speed.”

But Trump and the firm will have to get through Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup first, along with about 90 other landowners in the path of the pipeline.

They are mostly farmers and ranchers, making a last stand against the pipeline – the fate of which now rests with an obscure state regulatory board, the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

The group is fine-tuning an economic argument it hopes will resonate better in this politically conservative state than the environmental concerns that dominated the successful push to block Keystone under former President Barack Obama.

Backed by conservation groups, the Nebraska opponents plan to cast the project as a threat to prime farming and grazing lands – vital to Nebraska’s economy – and a foreign company’s attempt to seize American private property.

They contend the pipeline will provide mainly temporary jobs that will vanish once construction ends, and limited tax revenues that will decline over time.

They face a considerable challenge. Supporters of the pipeline as economic development include Republican Governor, Pete Ricketts, most of the state’s senators, its labor unions and chamber of commerce.

“It’s depressing to start again after Obama rejected the pipeline two years ago, but we need keep our coalition energized and strong,” said Tanderup, who grows rye, corn and soybeans on his 160-acre property.

Now Tanderup and others are gearing up for another round of battle – on a decidedly more local stage, but with potentially international impact on energy firms and consumers.

The latest Keystone XL showdown underscores the increasingly well-organized and diverse resistance to pipelines nationwide, which now stretches well beyond the environmental movement.

Last year, North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux, a Native American tribe, galvanized national opposition to the Energy Transfer Partners Dakota Access Pipeline. Another ETP pipeline in Louisiana has drawn protests from flood protection advocates and commercial fishermen.

The Keystone XL pipeline would cut through Tanderup’s family farm, near the two-story farmhouse built in the 1920s by his wife Helen’s grandfather.

The Tanderups have plastered the walls with aerial photos of three “#NoKXL” crop art installations they staged from 2014 to 2016. Faded signs around the farm still advertise the concert Willie Nelson and Neil Young played here in 2014 to raise money for the protests.

The stakes for the energy industry are high as the Keystone XL combatants focus on Nebraska, especially for Canadian producers that have struggled for decades to move more of that nation’s landlocked oil reserves to market. Keystone offers a path to get heavy crude from the Canada oil sands to refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast equipped to handle it.

TransCanada has route approval in all of the U.S. states the line will cross except Nebraska, where the company says it has been unable to negotiate easements with landowners on about 9 percent of the 300-mile crossing.

So the dispute now falls to Nebraska’s five-member utility commission, an elected board with independent authority over TransCanada’s proposed route.

The commission has scheduled a public hearing in May, along with a week of testimony by pipeline supporters and opponents in August. Members face a deadline set by state law to take a vote by November.


TransCanada has said on its website that the pipeline would create “tens of thousands” of jobs and tens of millions in tax dollars for the three states it would cross – Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

TransCanada declined to comment in response to Reuters inquiries seeking a more precise number and description of the jobs, including the proportion of them that are temporary – for construction – versus permanent.

Trump has been more specific, saying the project would create 28,000 U.S. jobs. But a 2014 State Department study predicted just 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs.

Asked about the discrepancy, White House spokeswoman Kelly Love did not explain where Trump came up with his 28,000 figure, but pointed out that the State Department study also estimates that the pipeline would indirectly create thousands of additional jobs.

The study indicates those jobs would be temporary, including some 16,100 at firms with contracts for goods and services during construction, and another 26,000, depending on how workers from the original jobs spend their wages.

TransCanada estimates that state taxes on the pipeline and pumping stations would total $55.6 million across the three states during the first year.

The firm will pay property taxes on the pumping stations along the route, but not the land. It would pay a different – and lower – “personal property” tax on the pipeline itself, said Brian Jorde, a partner in the Omaha-based law firm Domina Law Group, which represents the opposition.

The personal property taxes, he said, would decline over a seven-year period and eventually disappear.


The Nebraska utilities commission faces tremendous political pressure from well beyond the state it regulates.

“The commissioners know it is game time, and everybody is looking,” said Jane Kleeb, Nebraska’s Democratic party chair and head of the conservation group Bold Alliance, which is coordinating resistance from the landowners, Native American tribes and environmental groups.

The alliance plans to target the commissioners and their electoral districts with town halls, letter-writing campaigns, and billboards.

During the televised ceremony where Trump awarded the federal permit for the pipeline, he promised to weigh in on the Nebraska debate.

“Nebraska? I’ll call Nebraska,” he said after TransCanada Chief Executive Russell Girling said the company faced opposition there.

Love, the White House spokeswoman, said she did not know if Trump had called Nebraska officials.

The commission members – one Democrat and four Republicans – have ties to a wide range of conflicting interests in the debate, making it difficult to predict their decision.

According to state filings, one of the commissioners, Democrat Crystal Rhoades, is a member of the Sierra Club – an environmental group opposing the pipeline.

Another, Republican Rod Johnson, has a long history of campaign donations from oil and gas firms.

The others are Republicans with ties to the farming and ranching sectors – including one member that raises cattle in an area near where the pipeline would cross.

All five members declined requests for comment.


TransCanada has been trying since 2008 to build the 1,100-mile line – from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to a network feeding the Midwest and Gulf Coast refining regions. The firm had its federal permit application rejected in 2015 by the Obama administration.

Opponents want the pipeline, if not rejected outright, to be re-routed well away from Nebraska’s Sandhills region, named for its sandy soil, which overlies one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the United States.

The Ogallala aquifer supplies large-scale crop irrigation and cattle-watering operations.

“It all comes down to water,” said Terry Steskal, whose family farm lies in the pipeline’s path.

Steskal dug his boot into the ground on his property, kicking up sand to demonstrate his biggest concern about the pipeline. If the pipeline leaks, oil can easily seep through the region’s porous soil into the water, which lies near the surface.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said the company has a good environmental record with its existing Keystone pipeline network in Nebraska, which runs east of the proposed Keystone XL.

The company, however, has reported at least two big pipeline spills in other states since 2011, including some 400 barrels of oil spilled in South Dakota last year.

The Domina Law Group is helping the opposition by preparing the landowners, including the Tanderups and Steskals, for the August hearings, much as they would prepare witnesses for trial.

If the route is approved, Jorde said the firm plans to file legal challenges, potentially challenging TransCanada’s right to use eminent domain law to seize property.

Eminent domain allows for the government to expropriate private land in the public interest. But Jorde said he thinks TransCanada would struggle to meet that threshold in Nebraska.

“Some temporary jobs and some taxes is not enough to win the public interest argument,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ethan Lou in Calgary; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)

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.


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)

U.S. could grant final permit for Dakota pipeline as soon as Friday: government lawyer

police barricade north of Dakota Access Pipeline

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army secretary could make a decision on the final permit needed to complete the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline as soon as Friday, the government’s lawyer told a Washington, D.C., court on Monday.

The Army Corp of Engineers told the court it has submitted its recommendation to Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, on whether it needs to complete a full environmental review before it can grant the final permit allowing work to start on a contested tunnel under a lake. The review was requested in December by former President Barack Obama.

Opponents argue that letting the pipeline cross under Lake Oahe, a reservoir that is the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, would damage sacred lands and could leak oil into the tribe’s water supply.

Proponents believe the pipeline is necessary to transport U.S. oil safely and that it would create jobs.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, said the tribe will challenge the U.S. government in court if the Army grants the easement. The tribe, along with other Native American groups, environmentalists and other activists, have opposed the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline led by Energy Transfer Partners LP <ETP.N>.

He said it is unclear whether construction could begin while the decision is challenged or whether the court will grant an injunction blocking the work.

“Our position is the tribe’s treaty rights and the law require the full (Environmental Impact Study) process that the government initiated in December. Issuing the easement without that process will be a serious violation of the law,” Hasselman told Reuters.

A spokesman for the Army was not immediately available to comment. Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment on the legal proceedings.

At the hearing at the D.C. Circuit Court on Monday, lawyers for ETP said the pipeline would become fully operational around 90 days after construction begins. If the easement is granted, oil can start crossing under the lake, a reservoir that is part of the Missouri River, as soon as 60 days after construction starts.

(Additional reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Dan Grebler)

With Dakota denial, outlook for U.S. pipelines turns murky

People celebrate the temporary win of the North Dakota Pipeline

By Liz Hampton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army’s denial of an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, after permitting and legal obligations were followed, sets an uncertain precedent for new projects despite President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to support energy infrastructure.

The decision came after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others who said the line could desecrate tribal grounds, or a spill could contaminate drinking water.

While most of the 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline is complete, Energy Transfer Partners, the line’s owner, needed an easement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to drill under Lake Oahe. The lake, a water source formed by a dam on the Missouri River, has been the focus of protesters.

The Army’s intervention sets an unsettling precedent, analysts and industry groups told Reuters, because Energy Transfer had undergone the necessary environmental reviews and permitting processes to move ahead with construction.

“I think it sends a horrible signal to anyone wanting to invest in a project and I strongly suspect those policies will be discontinued on Jan. 20th,” said Brigham McCown, the former head of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) under George W. Bush, referring to the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Still, the decision to deny the easement tempers some of the optimism pipeline companies assumed following the election of Trump, who is seen as more supportive of oil and gas projects.

Energy Transfer Partners said in a statement the decision was politically motivated and it did not intend to reroute the line.

(For graphic on the Dakota Access Pipeline, click


Beyond the federal approval issues, state and local governments have also mobilized against pipelines. Earlier this year, Georgia’s state legislature passed a bill to restrict pipeline developments, stopping a gasoline line from Florida to South Carolina from being built.

Energy Transfer chief executive Kelcy Warren, a donor to Trump’s campaign, said his election was a positive. Last week Trump for the first time voiced support for the Dakota Access project.

Trump has also said he would support TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL, which the Obama Administration rejected last year.

Denying permits for an already-approved pipeline adds a new level of uncertainty to projects. Oil companies have already been facing growing resistance from environmental groups that have resulted in delays or unanticipated costs.

Equipment used for the Dakota Access line has been set on fire, and in October, a group of protesters turned off valves on pipelines transporting oil from Canada to the United States. Together, those lines had capacity to move some 2.8 million barrels per day of oil.

“Until you see that Trump has a track record of approving things and showing that things can get built in time, it’s tough to say it’s not a murky environment for pipelines,” said Sarp Ozkan, manager of energy analytics for Drillinginfo.

That means pipelines could face higher risk premiums and have a harder time getting volume commitments from shippers that underpin such projects, Ozkan said.

Energy Transfer has said it expects to lose almost $84 million each month the Dakota Access pipeline is delayed, and that losing shippers could result in its cancellation, according to a court filing.

“I think midstream companies will hope that each project can be decided based on necessary permitting approvals, but there will be increased risk where agencies like USACE are involved,” said Sandy Fielden, director of research in commodities and energy at Morningstar.

While the Standing Rock Sioux have said they would support a rerouting of the line, others, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), want it canceled.

“Given Trump’s support of the Dakota Access, and the Keystone XL, we remain cautious,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesman for IEN.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Police clash with North Dakota pipeline protesters, arrest one

police surround north dakota pipeline protesters

By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters opposed to a North Dakota oil pipeline project they say threatens water resources and sacred tribal lands clashed with police who fired tear gas at the scene of a similar confrontation last month, officials said.

An estimated 400 protesters mounted the Backwater Bridge and attempted to force their way past police in what the Morton County Sheriff’s Department described as an “ongoing riot,” the latest in a series of demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A media statement from the agency said one arrest had been made by 8:30 p.m. local time (0230 GMT Monday), about 2 1/2 hours after the incident began some 45 miles (30 miles) south of Bismark, the North Dakota capital.

The Backwater Bridge has been closed since late October, when activists clashed with police in riot gear and set two trucks on fire, prompting authorities to forcibly shut down a protesters encampment nearby.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said officers on the scene of the latest confrontation were “describing protesters’ actions as very aggressive.”

Demonstrators tried to start numerous fires as they attempted to outflank and “attack” law enforcement barricades, the sheriff’s statement said.

Police said they responded by firing volleys of tear gas at protesters in a bid to prevent them from crossing the bridge.

Activists at the scene reported on Twitter that police were also spraying protesters with water in sub-freezing temperatures and firing rubber bullets, injuring some in the crowd.

Police did not confirm the use of rubber bullets or water.

The clashes began after protesters removed a truck that had been on the bridge since Oct. 27, police said. The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the Backwater Bridge due to damage from that incident.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access project has been drawing steady opposition from Native American and environmental activists since the summer.

Completion of the pipeline, set to run 1,172 miles (1,185 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 Lake Oahe, a federally owned water source, and to skirt the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation by about half a mile. Most of the construction has otherwise been finished.

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

Supporters of the pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, said the project offers the fast 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 Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)

U.S. Army, Interior Dept call for more review on Dakota pipeline

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota

By Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton

(Reuters) – Federal authorities deferred a final decision on a controversial North Dakota section of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Monday in a statement that highlighted concerns about the “repeated” dispossession of tribal lands in the country’s past.

The Departments of the Army and Interior, in a joint statement, said that while their previous decisions to grant construction were consistent with legal requirements, they wanted to have additional discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe due to concerns about protecting Lake Oahe, a culturally sensitive and federally owned water source.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access construction project has drawn steady opposition since last summer from the Standing Rock Sioux, along with environmental activists, who claim it could pollute nearby water supplies and destroy sacred historical sites.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said on Monday that he was “encouraged” by the decision, even though it was not 100 percent what the Tribe had hoped for.

Most of the construction of the proposed 1,172-mile (1,885 km) line, which will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois, has been completed. However, Energy Transfer Partners LP, which is building the line, has yet to receive approval for an easement to tunnel under Lake Oahe, which is part of the Missouri River and is adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

“This action is motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given,” said Kelcy Warren, Chief Executive Officer of Energy Transfer Partners.

“To propose, as the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) now does, to further delay this pipeline and to engage in what can only be described as a sham process sends a frightening message about the rule of law.”

Dakota Access will vigorously pursue its legal rights in this matter, Energy Transfer Partners said in a joint statement with Sunoco Logistics Partners

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Demonstrations continued on Monday as more than 500 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters tried to gain entry to the capitol in Bismarck. Officials put the building in a “soft lockdown,” in which all doors were locked and guarded, at 11:30 a.m. CST (1830 GMT), said Lieutenant Tom Iverson, spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

Completion of the pipeline was delayed in September so federal authorities could re-examine permits required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In its statement, the Army said that its previous decisions “comported with legal requirements.” However, it added that it was “mindful of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s repeated dispossessions, including those to support water-resources projects.”

It said its additional analysis and discussion with the tribe will include conditions in an easement for the pipeline crossing that might reduce the risk of spills, along with an assessment of how such a spill could affect the tribe.

“This delay provides an opportunity for the U.S. government to resolve outstanding issues to the full satisfaction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and end this pipeline project,” said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group.


Shares of ETP dipped about 1 percent in after-hours trading. Officials at Energy Transfer Partners were not immediately available for comment.

The line has been billed as a cost-effective and efficient way to bring North Dakota oil through Illinois, en route to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is unclear how long the review will take.

The Obama Administration has been supportive in the past of the protection of tribal lands. President-elect Donald Trump has voiced support for infrastructure projects, including pipelines, though he has not specifically addressed Dakota Access.

The likelihood of different government policies in two months could make for a limited delay in the project, said Rick Smead, Managing Director of Advisory Services for RBN Energy in Houston.

The MAIN Coalition, which represents groups that support the pipeline, called Monday’s action another “attempt at death by delay” of the pipeline, saying the administration “has chosen to further fan the flames of protest by more inaction.”

With Trump’s inauguration a little more than two months away, they said they hoped “this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

More than 200 protests against the pipeline are planned across U.S. cities on Tuesday, according to organizers of the demonstrations.

Protests were a factor in the Obama administration’s decision to delay the line’s completion in September and ask for further review from the U.S. Army.

Previous demonstrations, which have drawn celebrities including actors Shailene Woodley and Susan Sarandon, have occasionally turned violent.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston; Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Alan Crosby and Andrew Hay)

Dakota access Pipeline protests planned across United States

People march past the North Dakota State Capitol building during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota,

By Liz Hampton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Demonstrators across U.S. cities will gather outside offices of the Army Corps of Engineers, banks and energy companies on Tuesday in the largest protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline since the U.S. government halted the project in September.

More than 200 protests are set to take place in a “Day of Action” called for by indigenous leaders in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and in an effort to urge the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. government to stop the pipeline, according to Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesman for Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the organizers.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access project has drawn steady opposition since last summer from the tribe, along with environmental activists, who claim it could pollute nearby water supplies and destroy sacred historical sites.

“The purpose is to elevate the issue and to encourage the Army Corps to exert its power to stop this pipeline,” Goldtooth said of Tuesday’s protests in which more than 30 groups, including Greenpeace and CREDO Action, are participating.

The Army Corps and Department of Interior on Monday delayed a decision on whether to grant an easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the main company behind the pipeline, for an easement to tunnel under Lake Oahe, the water source that is the focus of protests.

Construction of the 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline is about 85 percent complete, Phillips 66, one of the pipeline’s investors, said last week. The only outstanding construction work to be done in North Dakota is the segment of the line that would run under the lake, Energy Transfer said last week.

Energy Transfer has said the pipeline would be a more efficient and safer way to transport oil from the Bakken shale of North Dakota to the Midwest and onto the U.S. Gulf Coast. The company last week said it was confident the Army Corps would grant the easement, allowing it to begin drilling under the lake about two weeks later.

Tuesday’s protests will be focused outside Army Corps offices throughout the country, and at major banks financing construction of the pipeline. Norwegian bank DNB this month said it would reconsider financing the project if the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux were not addressed. In Houston, Texas, demonstrators will gather outside Energy Transfer Partners’ office.

Although the protests were planned in advance of the November presidential election, they come as groups opposed to the Dakota Access line could face headwinds following the election of Republican Donald Trump.

While the president-elect has not weighed in on the Dakota Access specifically, he has expressed strong support for development of energy infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines.

Kelcy Warren, the top executive at Energy Transfer, donated more than $100,000 to the Trump campaign.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Andrew Hay)