4 Nov 2016

US govt examines re-routing Dakota pipeline

8:22 am on 4 November 2016

The US government is examining ways to reroute an oil pipeline in North Dakota after concerns raised by Native American tribes protesting against its construction.

Protestors at the Standing Rock reservation

Protestors at the Standing Rock reservation Photo: AFP

Obama's comments to online news site Now This were his first to directly address the escalating clashes between local authorities and protesters over Energy Transfer Partners' US$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," Mr Obama said.

New Zealanders are among more than a million people who have "checked in" to Standing Rock on Facebook in an attempt to prevent those protesting at the site from coming under surveillance.

Thousands of Māori have also shown their support on social media, posting videos of themselves performing a haka composed especially for Standing Rock.

The US Department of Justice did not comment on Mr Obama's statement regarding rerouting the line, citing pending litigation involving the tribes and an ongoing review of permitting by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

"Ultimately, this is a determination the army must make based on its own review, and we don't yet know what that decision will be," a Justice Department spokesman said.

Yesterday, protesters on the banks of the Cantapeta Creek confronted law enforcement as they attempted to build a wooden pedestrian bridge across the creek to gain access to the Cannon Ball Ranch, private land owned by Energy Transfer Partners, according to a statement from Morton County officials.

Construction on part of the pipeline was halted 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. The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Wednesday that it let law enforcement go into this land to prevent further campsites from being set up.

Construction is continuing on sections of the pipeline away from the Missouri River, according to one of the owners of the pipeline and also to US refiner Phillips 66.

The 1885km pipeline would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

North Dakota officials are girding for a long fight. The state's emergency commission on Tuesday approved another $4 million loan to support law enforcement during the protests.

Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II lauded Obama's comments and called on the administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a stop-work order on the pipeline on federal land. He also called for a full environmental impact study.

"The injustices done to native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed. We believe President Obama and his Administration will do the right thing," he said.

Letting the situation play out

Mr Obama said government agencies would 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".

But Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz said letting the situation play out "affords the opportunity to the out-of-state militant faction of this protest to keep escalating their violent activities".

The Now This video, however, suggested that Mr Obama was talking about the review process, not the protests. The president later in the interview says he wants to make sure that both protesters and law enforcement are "refraining from situations that might result in people being hurt."

The fight against the pipeline has drawn international attention and growing celebrity support amid confrontations between riot police and protesters. More than 140 people were arrested when a protest was broken up by law enforcement nearly a week ago.

Some have said an alternative pipeline route could be a way to get over the impasse.


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