President Barack Obama has weighed in on the ongoing protests against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota, saying the U.S. government is examining ways to reroute it and address concerns raised by Native American tribes.
Obama’s comments late on Tuesday to online news site Now This were his first to directly address the escalating clashes between local authorities and protesters over Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline project.
“My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama said in the video interview.
The U.S. Justice and Interior Departments along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of part of the pipeline in September due to protests by Native American tribes who contend the pipeline would disturb sacred land and pollute waterways supplying nearby homes. The affected area includes land under Lake Oahe, a large and culturally important reservoir on the Missouri River where the line was supposed to cross.
Construction is continuing on sections of the pipeline away from the Missouri River, U.S. refiner Phillips 66 said.
Obama said government agencies will let the situation “play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans.”
The fight against the pipeline has drawn international attention and growing celebrity support amid confrontations between riot police and protesters.
The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline, being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners, would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
At a Sept. 27 White House summit for tribal nations, Obama did not directly comment on plans to deal with the pipeline protests but acknowledged the swell of support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“This moment highlights why it’s so important that we redouble our efforts to make sure that every federal agency truly consults and listens and works with you, sovereign to sovereign,” he said at the event.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Will Dunham)