CANNON BALL, N.D. – Construction has resumed on the Dakota Access Pipeline as opponents raise new arguments in court to continue fighting the project.
Energy Transfer Partners estimates it will take 60 days to drill under Lake Oahe and complete the pipeline.
“I would say sometime around early April, we’ll be pulling oil,” CEO Kelcy Warren said during a radio program Thursday, Feb. 9.
Spokeswoman Vicki Granado said after the pipeline is complete, it will take about 23 days to fill the 1,172-mile pipeline and get oil from northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Ill.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a motion in federal court Thursday seeking to halt construction and have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers withdraw the easement issued this week.
The tribe, which intervened in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit with the Corps, argues in new motions that the pipeline easement violates the tribe’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe says in court filings that the installation of the pipeline under Lake Oahe “will desecrate those waters and render them unsuitable for use in their religious sacraments.”
A hearing on the tribe’s motion for a temporary restraining order has been scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also indicated plans to challenge in court that the environmental impact statement, ordered under the Obama administration, was wrongfully terminated under President Donald Trump.
“The Obama administration correctly found that the Tribe’s treaty rights needed to be acknowledged and protected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” said Jan Hasselman, lead attorney for Standing Rock, said in a statement.
Labor union representative Cory Bryson said workers were eager to get back to work, but understand that it’s possible their jobs could be halted again due to court proceedings.
“There are lot of workers that are excited to be part of this and see this thing finished,” said Bryson, business representative for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 563.
An inspector from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was on site Thursday to monitor the construction.
It will take about 30 workers at the peak, including day and night shifts, to complete the horizontal directional drilling, Bryson estimated.
Some workers are nervous about getting harassed by protesters, but the area has a significant presence of law enforcement, National Guard and security workers hired by the pipeline owner, Bryson said.
“They’re just hoping they can get through this and finish up the final days without any slowdowns,” he said.
Law enforcement will remain in the area “to make sure that law and order is maintained,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said.
As of early Thursday afternoon, officers had not seen any issues with protesters trespassing or attempting to interfere with construction, he said.
Kirchmeier estimates there are 300 to 500 people who come and go from the protest camps. He said some people were leaving the Oceti Sakowin camp in Morton County and going to neighboring Sioux County.
The state has spent at least $29 million in law enforcement costs associated with responding to the protests, said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the Department of Emergency Services. Fong said the figure is about a week old and expected to be updated on Friday.
Warren, who appeared on Scott Hennen’s “What’s On Your Mind?” radio program, praised law enforcement and reiterated a statement he’s made before about the pipeline company reimbursing the state for costs associated with responding to protests.
“I know that it has stressed your state and I apologize for that,” Warren said. “I feel that we somehow have caused that and I have publicly stated that we would like to assist in any stress that we could assist on, whether we help financially or whatever.”
Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, said the state will seek reimbursement for costs related to responding to protests, but currently the governor is focused on other priorities including cleaning up the protest camp before potential spring flooding.
“All options will be on the table,” Nowatzki said of possible sources of reimbursement.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Transportation plans to repair the guardrails of the Backwater Bridge on Friday that was damaged during protests. Roadway repairs on the bridge, which is on Highway 1806, are tentatively scheduled to begin Monday.