- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An oil-rich group of American Indian tribes in North Dakota has asked a federal appeals court to quickly decide whether a Texas company needed tribal permission to place a pair of pipelines 100 feet beneath a Missouri River reservoir.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation asked the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel Wednesday to expedite their review of the Sacagawea pipeline because it “raises issues of unusual magnitude and urgency.” The tribes say they own mineral rights under Lake Sakakawea and were not assured that the water would not be harmed by the pipeline.

Officials with Paradigm Energy Partners LLC said in federal court earlier this month that the $125 million, 70-mile (113 km) oil pipeline is complete, and that it needs to complete the $16.6 million gas pipeline by Nov. 1 due to an agreement with a private landowner. Paradigm has said delays jeopardize the project and the future of the Irving, Texas-based company. Paradigm did not return telephone calls Thursday by The Associated Press.

“Obviously, we want to see this decided as quickly as possible,” said former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, who is representing the tribes.

The Sacagawea pipeline is the second such project being challenged by American Indians in North Dakota. About 150 miles (241 km) downstream on the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is protesting against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say could disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for 8,000 tribal members and millions further downstream.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, requested the Sacagawea pipeline be halted last month. The project is named for American Indian guide Sacagawea, who joined explorers Merriweather Lewis and William Clark in what is now North Dakota, where her name commonly spelled Sakakawea. Lake Sakakawea is the largest of six Missouri River reservoirs.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland temporarily allowed construction to continue, saying the company was not required to get the tribe’s permission and that it received proper permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bore beneath the lake.

About 20 percent of the more than 1 million barrels of oil produced daily in North Dakota comes from the Fort Berthold Reservation, occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. The tribes have a 12 percent stake in the oil pipeline, but no working interest in the gas pipeline.

The tribes said the company offered up to $2 million in June to resolve certain issues - while drilling already had started beneath the lake. The tribes also have asked the company to, among other things, assure the more than 12,500 tribal members on the reservation that the pipelines are safe.

That appeal came amid allegations by former construction workers this summer that the oil pipeline was not properly inspected before it placed beneath Lake Sakakawea. The company has denied that, saying the workers had been fired.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is conducting an investigation, agency spokeswoman Artealia Gilliard said Thursday.

“We are investigating these claims and are taking this very seriously,” she said.

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