Federal Easement Could Ease N.D. Pipeline Standoff, Governor Says

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By Mark Wolski

Nov. 28 — Demonstrators protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., awoke to newly fallen snow early Nov. 28, more than a week after North Dakota’s governor called on the federal government to end the standoff.

In a recent statement, Gov. John Dalrymple (R) said that granting an easement that would allow the pipeline to be built under Lake Oahe in south-central North Dakota would go a long way toward defusing the situation, where pipeline protesters have repeatedly clashed with state law enforcement.

Dalrymple said easement delays have prolonged risks to public safety and increased state and local law enforcement costs.

The governor also called on the Obama administration to resolve the issue of protesters camping illegally on federally managed lands near the pipeline site. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week ordered protesters to leave the site north of the Cannonball River by Dec. 5, it has also indicated it won’t forcibly evict protesters who remain on the land.

North Dakota Sen. Connie Triplett (D) told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 28 that while Dalrymple may see the corps’ letter as an eviction notice, she thinks the letter is more a notice that the corps will not be responsible for any accidents that occur on the land it is managing. She said the letter acknowledges the dangers of staying in an open area as winter approaches.

Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas has been building the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline for the past year. When finished, it will transport oil from North Dakota to Pakota, Ill., where shippers will be able to send it to different markets throughout the country. The 30-inch pipeline is expected to carry about 450,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly half the output of the Bakken oil fields located in parts of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The company had hoped the pipeline would be operating by the end of this year and has asked a court to order the corps to issue the easement.

Corps Still Studying Easement

A federal court ruled months ago that the pipeline met or exceeded regulatory requirements, but the easement for work under the Missouri River has yet to be granted. The Corps of Engineers announced last week that it wanted to further review technical aspects of the river crossing. It has not disclosed when an easement decision will be made.

Last week, however, the corps did order protesters to leave lands it manages north of the Cannonball River. A letter from Col. John W. Henderson, district commander, said all public use and access to the land would be prohibited as of Dec. 5. The letter said the closing was necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations that have occurred near the pipeline’s siting and to protect people from North Dakota’s harsh winters. It added that necessary emergency, medical and law enforcement services could not be provided in the area, which is surrounded by hills.

The corps’ letter said it had established a free-speech zone for protesters on land south of the river.

Protesters Not Moving

Sue Evans, spokeswoman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the Corps’ request has spurred few to leave the area. Protesters remain north of the river, she said, and many have prepared for the coming cold. She said they have brought the clothing and camping gear necessary for winter and a number of the protesters have erected yurts. They awoke to snow Nov. 28 and still stayed at the site, she said.

The forecast calls for more snow and winds of 25 to 30 mph in the coming days.

Evans added that the standoff is unlikely to be resolved soon. Those opposed to the pipeline believe it could endanger the state’s waters, while the state’s congressional delegation and state officials are firmly in support of the pipeline and the oil industry that is advocating it, she said. Given how diametrically opposed the two sides are, she said, it is not a surprise that they haven’t met to discuss a possible resolution.

While some in the state have encouraged Republican Gov.-elect Doug Burgum to try to bring the two sides together, she said she is not optimistic his involvement would resolve the dispute.

Triplett said she believes Burgum could help the situation, but more from the perspective of state and tribal relations. Pipeline supporters and opponents have made their positions clear, she said, with the tribe believing it has a duty to protect water, and Energy Transfer Partners keen on meeting the deadlines of its contracts. The situation is bigger than an oil pipeline, however, as the lack of communication has eroded the tribal-state relationship, she said. If Burgum could meet with both sides and bring them to a position of mutual understanding, state-tribal relations may not be sent back a generation, she said.

Officials with the Dalrymple Administration and Energy Transfer Partners did respond to calls from Bloomberg BNA for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Wolski in St. Paul, Minn. at mwolski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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