BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Oil has been pumped into a controversial section of the Dakota Access pipeline after months of delays caused by protests and Native American tribes’ efforts to stop the project.
The 1,200-mile pipeline is now capable of moving half of the oil produced in North Dakota to a distribution point in Illinois. The line is expected to be fully operational in about three weeks.
Here’s a look at how the saga has affected the major players.
For Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, the start of operations means money.
The company had hoped the pipeline would be operational late last year, but resistance from Sioux tribes and a favorable order under the Obama administration blocked final construction until President Donald Trump took office in January and pushed federal officials to approve the final stage of construction.
The company says in court documents that it has long-term transportation contracts with nine companies to ship oil through the pipeline. Based on information supplied by ETP in court documents, delays have cost it more than half-a-billion dollars.
The fight over the pipeline drew widespread attention and at one point attracted thousands of protesters to an encampment near the small town of Cannon Ball.
For opponents, the flow of oil is a setback but not necessarily a defeat. Four Sioux tribes — the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala — have a lawsuit pending in federal court and hope to persuade a judge to shut down the pipeline to protect Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir and their water source.
Opponents say they also have succeeded on a larger scale by raising awareness about clean water issues and sparking protests at other pipeline projects across the nation, as well as at banks that have supported Dakota Access.
“The resistance is growing,” protest leader Joye Braun said. “Water protectors have spread out around the country.”
The neighboring Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who led the fight against the pipeline, have work to do to get back to normal.
The months-long shutdown of a state highway between the Standing Rock Reservation and Bismarck due to protests cost the tribe’s casino millions of dollars, and some tribal members aren’t happy that Chairman Dave Archambault supported the shutdown last month of large protest camps in the area. Archambault said his call for protesters to leave ahead of spring flooding season was a matter of safety for the people in camp and the environment.
The Cheyenne River tribe still has a 25-acre camp south of the pipeline route on land it leased on the Standing Rock Reservation. About 25 people remain there, according to tribal spokesman Remi Bald Eagle.
“There are still prayer and healing ceremonies occurring at the camp, and the future of the camp is dependent on the litigation,” he said.
For the state of North Dakota, the pipeline has brought huge costs but also represents an enormous opportunity. It also has led to some new laws.
The state has spent more than $38 million policing the protests and is pushing the federal government for reimbursement. While the police presence near the pipeline route is slowly being scaled back, there’s no set date for a complete removal of officers, Morton County sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller said.
But that’s not much compared to what the state stands to gain in tax revenue. North Dakota should reap more than $110 million annually in additional tax revenue, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. The state Tax Department estimates the pipeline also will generate more than $10 million in property taxes for the state each year.
North Dakota lawmakers this year approved four bills spurred by confrontations between Dakota Access pipeline protesters and law enforcement. The laws target unruly behavior by protesters and aim to help law officers.
Hundreds of people were arrested in North Dakota in pipeline protests, with 94 percent of those from out of state. Among them were actress Shailene Woodley and former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. There are more than 800 protest-related cases in the state’s South Central Judicial District, with about 600 still to be resolved, according to Trial Court Administrator Donna Wunderlich.
“The extra cases represent a lot of extra work, but we are soldiering through,” she said recently. “The Supreme Court has authorized the use of surrogate judges. District judges from around the state have agreed to help.”
There also are two pipeline-related lawsuits pending in North Dakota state court. A group of pipeline opponents is suing police for allegedly using excessive force; police deny the allegations. And about two dozen North Dakota landowners are suing ETP for alleged deceit and fraud in acquiring land easements, a claim the company rejects.
In Iowa, the state chapter of the Sierra Club and a group of landowners are appealing their lawsuit challenging the pipeline to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Sierra Club says the Iowa Utilities Board refused to consider whether the pipeline will promote public convenience and necessity, a requirement in state law. The landowners challenged the board’s decision allowing ETP to forcefully take their land under eminent domain. A district court judge rejected the arguments in February.