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CREDIT: AP/BARBARA RODRIGUEZ
CREDIT: AP/BARBARA RODRIGUEZ

North Dakota Law Enforcement Just Moved Into A Native American Pipeline Protest

The fracked oil pipeline is about as long as the Keystone XL, and equally controversial.

An oil pipeline poised to run through four Midwestern states may have all the permits it needs for construction, but Native Americans and Iowa landowners facing eminent domain continue to fight the Bakken pipeline with protests and court injunctions.

On Thursday, Sioux tribe members continued for a second day to block workers at a Bakken pipeline construction site near where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet, prompting law enforcement to move in. This is an escalation from months of “spirit camp” protests — camps where tribe members pray as a group for hours at a time.

“We are working with local law enforcement on this situation to ensure the safety of our employees and the safety of those who live and work in the area,” the company, Dakota Access, said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “We will press charges against anyone who interferes in the construction of the pipeline. Construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline will continue across all four states along the route.”

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The $3.8 billion pipeline is slated to cross multiple watersheds in its more than 1,150 mile course. Native Americans from the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation oppose the project, saying it puts their water at risk and crosses sacred land. “Everybody is nonviolent and peaceful,” LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian at Standing Rock, said to the Associated Press Wednesday. “We want to hold them back until we can get to court.”

Late last week the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asked a federal court for a preliminary injunction halting build-out as they sue U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the permits it gave to the developers late last month.

The legal move came as 31 young Native Americans from various tribes and reservations from North Dakota and South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska intensified protest efforts with a 2,000-mile relay run to the White House.

The Bakken pipeline, a line about as long as the Keystone XL, goes through mostly state and private farm land in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Iowa — though ancestral Native American land is also affected. The pipeline, owned by a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, will transport up to 570,000 barrels of sweet crude oil a day, fracked from North Dakota’s oil-rich Bakken Formation, to a market hub near Patoka, Illinois.

Aside from disturbing Native American sites, critics say the pipeline brings a threat of spill damage to thousands of miles of fertile farmland, forests, and rivers. Federal agencies have said the Bakken Pipeline avoids “critical habitat.”

CREDIT: DAKOTA ACCESS
CREDIT: DAKOTA ACCESS

As Native Americans put pressure in North Dakota, landowners in Iowa are doing the same in what is becoming a race against the line’s construction schedule. Clearing and grading required in North Dakota is in place, according to court documents, and “a significant amount of pipeline stringing and engineering and bending” has happened, too, as construction in all four states is ongoing.

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Meanwhile in Iowa, landowners are asking courts for injunctions as they appeal Iowa’s decision to grant Dakota Access eminent domain powers that allow the company to take private property in return for fair-market compensation.

Early this week, the few remaining landowners who have declined Dakota Access payments filed an emergency petition to stay construction until the eminent domain appeal is settled. “Landowners are pretty much [down] to their last shot,” John Murray, plaintiff and president of the Northwest Iowa Landowners’ Association, told ThinkProgress. The injunction hearing is scheduled for next week.

Landowners say the Iowa Utilities Board, a three-member public utilities commission, overstepped state law and shouldn’t have given Dakota Access eminent domain powers because the company is not a utility providing a public good. Moreover, Murray said Iowa farmland has additional protections under Iowa law that have been overlooked.

In turn, Dakota Access, supported by some unions and business leaders, says it will provide economic benefits to the public, the states, and the region.

The issue could reach the Iowa Supreme Court, but for the time being Dakota Access is fully permitted to build. So now landowners like Richard Lamb worry that by the time the court hearing takes place, land will be already undergoing construction. “They are poised to actually start trenching probably anytime,” Lamb said while referring to his property.

Lamb, who leases his land for farming, said Dakota Access contacted him Wednesday saying workers would be cutting crops this week and that trenching would start soon, though the company didn’t specify when. “We are still hopeful that in the end we can prevail,” he said.

The Bakken pipeline is scheduled to be operating by the end of the year.