The company building the hotly contested North Dakota oil pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, went to extraordinary lengths to avoid trampling Native American ritual sites.
Cultural surveys conducted in North Dakota determined that Energy Transfer Partners’ initial pipeline had 149 eligible sites, with 91 of them containing stone features considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — a group of Native Americans claiming the completed Dakota Access pipeline will violate its ancestral land.
The pipeline was rerouted and modified to avoid all 91 of those areas, and all but nine of the other potentially eligible sites, according to Judge James Boasberg. The judge subsequently denied the motion for a preliminary injunction to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Friday, arguing the Native American tribe could not show how the pipeline would damage the group’s sacred ground.
Much of the pipeline, according to the judge’s opinion, runs very close to an already constructed pipeline.
“The company also opted to build its new pipeline along well-trodden ground wherever feasible,” the decision reads. “Around Lake Oahe, for example, the pipeline will track both the Northern Border Gas Pipeline, which was placed into service in 1982.”
But the changes made by the company were not enough to please protesters or the Standing Rock Sioux.
The tribe haggled with the oil pipeline developers over whether the National Historic Preservation Act, which allows the government to preserve historical and archaeological sites, can be used to prevent the building of the $3.8 million pipeline.
The nearly 1,200-mile pipeline would be the first to shuttle Bakken shale from North Dakota directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Obama administration temporarily shelved the pipeline’s construction Friday, shortly after Boasberg’s decision, until the government can determine the effects it will have on the environment.
The Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior announced the pause of construction in an area near the North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a major water resource for the state’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
“The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution,” the government said in a press statement at the time.
The government’s decision to intercede comes as the pipeline’s construction balloons into a major national issue during an election year.
Members of Standing Rock rallied outside the steps of the Washington, D.C., courthouse in August in an effort to raise publicity for their fight against the pipeline, which they say would wreak havoc on their native lands and cause widespread water contamination.
They rallied outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia while others clamored inside the court to wage a legal battle over the $3.7 billion project.
The meeting point attracted the likes of Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, as well as anti-fracking documentarian Josh Fox.
Tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz cited court documents concluding that researchers found burial rock piles called cairns, as well as other areas deemed historically “significant” to Native Americans.
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