STANDING ROCK, N.D. — On Monday, Nov. 14 —the same day the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced it would not grant an easement to drill under the Missouri River pending further analysis — Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit to push for completion of the pipeline without further interference from federal agencies and regulations.
Energy Transfer Partners, the company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), filed a lawsuit on Nov. 14 in federal court seeking a decision that would allow them to finish construction of the controversial project.
Energy Transfer Partners and its co-developer, Sunoco Logistics Partners, are also asking the court to award them reimbursement for “reasonable costs including attorney’s fees in bringing this action,” according to the lawsuit.
In the claim, the two companies charge the Army Corps has already granted all necessary permits required to complete the pipeline, including construction on USACE property under Lake Oahe.
However, no easement under the river has been granted, according to USACE, and any drilling would violate federal law. DAPL officials have ignored requests by three federal agencies to halt construction. Water protectors at the camps asserted this morning that last night DAPL workers put a drill in place on the drill pad abutting Lake Oahe. According to an Indigenous Life Movement live feed on Facebook produced by Myron Dewey, it appears the workers shut off floodlights at the construction site for several hours, presumably to mask the arrival of the drill, only to turn them on again at 3 a.m. This new move has not been confirmed by DAPL.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and millions of supporters oppose the pipeline because it poses a risk not only to the Tribe’s water source, but also to 18 million citizens downstream who depend on the Missouri River for drinking water. The tribe also alleges that DAPL construction has and will continue to destroy burial and sacred sites.
According to a statement from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the lawsuit is an act of desperation on the part of the pipeline developers.
“Dakota Access is so desperate to get this project in the ground that it is now suing the federal government on the novel theory that it doesn’t need an easement to cross federal lands,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said.
“They are wrong, and the lawsuit will not succeed. We are looking forward to discussing the easement with the administration and explaining why it must be denied,” he added.
The lawsuit was filed in response to a decision by the Department of the Army asking for additional discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as further analysis on environmental and cultural issues before an easement could be issued under Lake Oahe.
In a Nov. 14 statement, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners denounced USACE’s decision as unjust and “a reinforcement of the Administration’s lack of interest in enforcing and abiding by the law.” The statement contained a further promise that “Dakota Access will vigorously pursue its legal rights in this matter.”
In the lawsuit, DAPL developers claim that pipeline protestors have fired shots at law enforcement, assaulted DAPL workers and engaged in “an escalating campaign of violence and disorder designed to impede the construction through unlawful means.”
“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, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners.
“To propose, as the Corps 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,” he added in the statement.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told the Bismarck Tribune the law is clear that an easement is needed for the pipeline construction under Lake Oahe.
Many lawmakers and elected officials also question the legality of permitting DAPL to continue.
Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, a state with 22 Indian nations, was joined by 21 members of Congress Nov. 15 asking the federal government to deny the easement for the DAPL.
In a statement, members of Congress asked that the USACE continue to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
“Justice Department observers should be sent to the area without further delay to ensure that this badly needed dialogue—which should have started much sooner—is not marred by civil rights abuses occurring just down the road,” they said.
Members of Congress who signed the statement also noted that President-elect Trump has significant holdings in Energy Transfer Partners and predicted that his administration will signal a takeover by the oil and gas industry.
“This will be one of many battles we must fight, and we must stand together to protect the environment, sacred tribal lands, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly,” they added.
DAPL officials have told the court in previous complaints that if the pipeline is not completed and delivering oil by Jan. 1, 2017 their shipper contracts would expire and the project would be jeopardized.
“They are rushing to get the pipeline in the ground to meet that deadline,” Archambault said. “The only urgency here was created by their own reckless choice to build the pipeline before it had all the permits to do so. They chose to reroute this pipeline away from Bismarck and put it at our doorstep and through our treaty lands and sacred places, even after we told them that it could not pass here. They made bad decisions and are now facing the consequences. The tide is turning against this project. We thank all of our water protectors who have raised their voices against it. You are being heard.”
Update from North Dakota
According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, law enforcement engaged in an “ongoing riot” during the evening of Nov. 20. Law enforcement said an estimated 400 protestors were on the bridge attempting to breach the bridge to go north on Highway 1806. The Sheriff’s Department said there were a dozen fires near the bridge.
The Sacred Stone Camp said law enforcement engaged them as they were using a semi-truck to remove burnt military vehicles police had chained to concrete barriers a week ago, blocking traffic on Highway 1806.
“Water protestor’ efforts to clear the road and improve access to the camp for emergency services were met with tear gas, an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), stinger grenades, rubber bullets and indiscriminate use of a water canyon with an air temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit,” said the Sacred Stone Camp in a post Sunday night.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) showed a live feed from Kevin Gilbertt’s Facebook Live of the scene last night on his Facebook page.
“President [Barack] Obama must take all appropriate measures to protect the safety of the Native American protestors and their supporters who have gathered peacefully to oppose construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Sanders post said.
The Standing Rock Sioux have been fighting the construction of the oil pipeline, proposed to be built under the Missouri River on treaty lands a half-mile from its reservation. The tribe is concerned with threats to the water supply if the pipeline is constructed.
There have been demonstrations across the country, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, which voiced concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites of the Sioux. The departments of Justice, Interior and Army issued a joint statement halting construction temporarily and looking for a path forward that recognizes tribal interest in issues such as these.