Energy Transfer Partners is already working within the area where three federal agencies had asked them to halt construction, according to members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Meanwhile, the state’s agricultural commissioner Doug Goehring has set up a hotline for farmers and ranchers, who, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, are concerned for their safety and in some cases being prevented from safe passage to their fields at harvest time.
Tribal leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe denounced the construction activity, renewing claims that their water and cultural resources are at risk.
“Not surprisingly, Energy Transfer Partners has ignored the Obama Administration’s call to voluntarily halt construction and continues to desecrate our sacred places,” a statement from the tribe reads. “President Obama has the power to change the fate of the water users who stand to lose clean water. We need him to take action now. Our lives are risk, and the places we hold sacred are at risk. Millions have stood with us in opposition to this pipeline, and he must heed their call.”
Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II says the pipeline would threaten the Missouri River, which provides drinking water in that area, and has already destroyed cultural resources.
State officials, however, have disputed both these claims.
The pipeline is to be drilled 92 feet below the water table, which means it will be separated from the river by many layers of clay and shale, Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said Wednesday. The pipeline will have epoxy coatings to prevent corrosion, and its pressure will be monitored round-the-clock. The pipe will also be thicker under the lake, and there will be block valves at either end so the particular section in question can be isolated in a worst case scenario.
“The water crossings have been thoroughly analyzed, and the safest methods have been embraced in their permit,” she said.
Cultural resources were also thoroughly studied, Fedorchak said.
She pointed out a portion of the line parallels a decades old gas line and an electrical transmission line, both of which would have required cultural surveys to be conducted. The line was also moved 140 times to avoid areas that surveys found to have cultural resources.
“It was thoroughly reviewed, and I think that has been confirmed by the court’s processes,” Fedorchak said “A lot of opportunities were provided for input in a 13-month process with the Public Service Commission, as well as federal agencies separate from us. Despite the fact they didn’t come to our hearing or let us know in any other way that they had issues, many of these things have been addressed.”
The company is required to have a mitigation plan in place in the event of unexpected cultural resources being found, Fedorchack pointed out. A state archeologist has been unable to confirm that any cultural resources were destroyed, nor that any lay in the path of the pipeline.
“I am very comfortable with the public review process, and the final permit product that was provided in this case,” she said.
Fedorchak urged the federal agencies to quickly conclude whatever work remains.
“I hope now that it’s been addressed in court, that the Corps will finish up whatever work is remaining to give the company its last form needed to cross the river and that the protesters will pack up their camp and move on,” she said. “That protest has run its course, and it’s degraded into something much less peaceful and much more violent measures that are good for no one.”
Sheriff’s department confirms militant tactics
While the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has said it is committed to peaceful protests, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department says some of the environmental groups who have joined the protest are not necessarily similarly committed. In a blog posting by Common Dreams Wednesday, there is an entire section devoted to encouraging protesters to make militant actions a strategy.
“Militant direct action is a strategy we use to build real movements, change power dynamics, shift societies and even remove governments,” the article states. “Fighting oil companies, banks and pipelines, it creates a crisis in the business model.”
Rob Keller, a spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed tactics employed by some protesters have been less than peaceful. Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, acting as operations chief, meanwhile said the protest had turned into a riot.
Keller said the Morton County Sheriff’s Department has received several reports from ranchers concerned for the safety of themselves and their equipment as they go about harvest activities, as well as family members reporting difficulties getting through to their work places. A detailed list of these problems are being sent to Commissioner Goehring for him to review and evaluate further, Keller said.
Among the reports, horseback riders went through a farm yard breaking a wire fence, which the farmer went to repair.
“The riders were yelling and screaming at him,” Keller said. “He later heard gunshots in the area and was thinking they may have been shooting at some of the DAPL signs.”
Hay bales have been stolen and damage done to pasture lands as well, Keller added, and protesters have stood on roads refusing to allow farmers through.
“It is harvest time, and many are wondering what they will do if they are not allowed to get to their field,” Keller said.
In another case, a woman who was afraid of leaving the ranch to travel to work had her husband drive her instead. As they were leaving, they observed a man trespassing on their property, making a video recording without their permission.
“A rancher was stopped by a masked man on a county road who attempted to approach him,” Keller said. “He kept driving, and they took off.”
Goehring has advised farmers with concerns about getting to their fields to contact the Morton County Sheriff’s Department at 701-667-3330 for assistance in ensuring safe passage of themselves and their equipment and their family members. Keller confirmed they have given similar advice to their farmers and ranchers.
“If they see anything suspicious or have any concerns, they can contact us,” he said.
Work proceeds on Bakken pipeline
In addition to providing safe passage for farmers to harvest sites, the Sheriff’s Department is also working closely with Dakota Access to provide safe passage to its workers in the field.
Keller confirmed the company is working in all areas where it has received a legal permit to work.
“They have a legal right to be there,” he said. “They still need the easement to go under the Missouri, that hasn’t been granted, but they have every legal right to continue to prepare the ground and dig the trenches and lay the pipeline up to that site.”
Kevin Pranis, marketing manager for the Laborer’s International Union of North America, which has 400 members involved in building the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, said it is his understanding the company intends to build in all areas where they have a legal right to build.
“If the company were to voluntarily halt construction based on issues that have already been addressed by the court, the cost to our members, union contractors and the project would likely be immense,” Pranis said.
Stopping work at this point would cause a number of layoffs, and the loss of wages, as well as big costs to the contractors and pipeline owners, as equipment and manpower would have to be redeployed or left sitting idle.
“We have yet to see anyone offer to pay our members wages while they wait around for federal agencies to reach the same conclusion the courts have already reached: the project was lawfully permitted and should be allowed to proceed so we can accomplish the goal of reducing the use of less safe rail transport,” Pranis said.