Dakota pipeline operator goes to court after government delays construction
Energy Transfer Partners accused the Obama administration of being motivated purely by politics and said it would pursue rights to build controversial oil line
Protesters demonstrate against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photograph: Andrew Cullen/Reuters
The operator of the Dakota Access pipeline has asked a federal judge to approve immediate construction under the Missouri river just one day after the US government delayed the oil project that has faced international opposition from indigenous groups and environmental activists.
Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the $3.7bn pipeline, accused President Barack Obama’s administration of being “motivated purely by politics” and said it would “vigorously pursue its legal rights” to build under the river that provides the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply.
“Dakota Access Pipeline has waited long enough to complete this pipeline,” CEO Kelcy Warren said in a statement. “It is time for the Courts to end this political interference and remove whatever legal cloud that may exist over the right-of-way beneath federal land at Lake Oahe.”
On Monday, the US army corps of engineers announced that it needed “additional discussion and analysis” – including consultations with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe – before it would issue a final permit for the DAPL to drill on army land under the river, striking a blow to the oil company. Further construction on army corps property is not allowed until the final permit is issued.
The company had been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, who is invested in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which will have a 25% stake in the pipeline once it is completed. Trump has indicated that he will favor fossil fuels over clean energy and has a history of conflict with Native American tribes, motivated by competition over casinos.
“I’m 100% sure that the pipeline will be approved by a Trump administration,” Warren told NBC News on Saturday. “I believe we will have a government in place that believes in energy infrastructure.”
The army corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new court filings. A spokeswoman declined to speculate on the impact that the transition to a new presidential administration might have on its planned consultation with the tribe.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and founder of the Sacred Stone camp, said she wasn’t surprised the company went to court to try to bypass the federal government.
“They are grasping at straws now. It is just a power play,” Allard said. “They forgot that the people have the power.”
The litigation comes on an international “day of action” against the pipeline. Demonstrations have been planned in hundreds of cities around the world in solidarity with the Native American activists opposing the pipeline, who refer to themselves as “water protectors”.
The Dakota Access pipeline became an international symbol of the impacts of climate change on indigenous people in April, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, established a “spiritual camp” on the banks of the Missouri river near where the pipeline is planned to cross.
Members of the tribe fear that the pipeline will threaten their water source and that construction will destroy sacred sites, including burial grounds. Members of hundreds of Native American nations, as well as environmental activists, have joined the original band of water protectors in what are now sprawling encampments near the construction site.
More than 400 have been arrested during demonstrations in North Dakota that sought to halt or delay construction of the pipeline.
The United Nations office of the high commissioner for human rights released a statement on Tuesday accusing law enforcement of “using excessive force against protesters” and citing the “inhuman and degrading conditions in detention” for those arrested.
“This is a troubling response to people who are taking action to protect natural resources and ancestral territory in the face of profit-seeking activity,” said Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Allard, who traveled to Washington DC this week for Tuesday’s demonstrations, said she wants to see the government block the pipeline altogether.
“They really need to have done this from the beginning and listened to us and consulted us,” she said. “I won’t take anything unless they end the project. There is no compromise. There is no negotiation. Water has to come first.”