Dakota Access defends effort to keep oil spill documents secret

Indigenous women participate in a panel discussion as part of Native Nations Rise in Washington, D.C, on March 8, 2017. Photo: Ayse Gorsuz / Indigenous Rising Media

The wealthy backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline are offering more details about oil spill documents they want to keep from tribes and the public.

With oil set to flow through the pipeline in a matter of days, Dakota Access keeps bringing up the possibility for "wrongdoers" to damage the controversial project. That concern is driving the firm's request to keep 11 documents under wraps.

"The intense public attention this case has received, along with criminal actions already taken by those opposed to the pipeline, counsel in favor of extending confidentiality to portions of a small number of documents," the firm's attorneys wrote on Wednesday.

More than 800 people indeed have been arrested in connection with opposition to the pipeline. But none are accused of trying to damage the infrastructure itself, although some were charged after chaining themselves to construction equipment in North Dakota.

Still, Dakota Access contends the public shouldn't be able to see portions of five particular documents regarding oil spill plans at two locations in North Dakota and three in Illinois. The firm says none of the information was used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when it reviewed and approved the pipeline.

"Dakota Access, the party seeking protection, is the entity responsible for operating the pipeline. The public interest favors protecting the information to ensure the safety of vital infrastructure and to avoid reckless damage to the environment," the attorneys wrote.

Further, the firm argues that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, as plaintiffs in the case, have access to the full contents of all 11 of the documents. But they just can't disseminate the so-called "security sensitive" portions, the filing reads.

According to the firm, "while the route of the pipeline may be well known, this motion is about protecting information that would help wrongdoers target a particular spot on a route that exceeds 1,100 miles."

The 1,172-mile pipeline is all but finished except for a small portion on Army Corps-managed land in North Dakota. That portion, which is less than a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, had been put on hold by the Obama administration in order to address concerns about treaties, water and other issues.

But after President Donald Trump took office on January 20, he ordered his administration to consider the pipeline in an "expedited" manner. Barely two weeks later, the Army Corps approved the final portion without consulting Standing Rock or Cheyenne River.

Tomorrow, we are marching because we want the new President and our new Administration to #TakeTheMeeting; meet with...

Posted by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Thursday, March 9, 2017

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Facebook: Native Nations Rise

The tribes are still hoping they can stop oil from flowing through the pipeline. They have asked a federal judge to set aside the easement that was granted by the Army Corps to Dakota Access, arguing that the decision was arbitrary and without a solid basis in law.

Briefing continues on their requests as construction crews complete their work in North Dakota. Pipe is being laid under the Missouri River and crude oil could be flowing as soon as next week, the firm said in a status update on Monday.

Meanwhile, Standing Rock leaders and their allies are in Washington, D.C., for Native Nations Rise. The event began on Tuesday with a symbolic teepee camp near the Washington Monument.

On Wednesday, organizers highlighted International Women’s Day with a panel of indigenous women leaders. They discussed efforts to protect their communities from infrastructure projects like Dakota Access.

"I never get tired of doing what I feel is right as a woman, as a native woman, as a person on this planet," said Kandi Mossett, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, according to Indigenous Rising Media. "We say Mni Wiconi, water of life, water is life."

Activities at the event site on the National Mall continue on Thursday. The week culminates on Friday with a march from the headquarters of the Army Corps to the White House.

"Tomorrow, we are marching because we want the new President and our new Administration to #TakeTheMeeting; meet with Tribal Leaders, and hear our stories," the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said on Facebook. "Understand our claim to our lands."

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