South Dakota, Iowa confirm Dakota Access pipeline vandalism

BISMARCK, N.D. — Authorities in South Dakota and Iowa on Tuesday confirmed incidents of vandalism against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in which someone burned a hole through an empty section of pipe.

Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners said in court documents Monday that there have been “recent coordinated physical attacks along the pipeline that pose threats to life, physical safety and the environment.” The company didn’t provide further details, including the locations of the attacks, and ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado on Tuesday declined comment.

South Dakota attorney general’s office spokeswoman Sara Rabern confirmed one incident of what she called “felony vandalism” southeast of Sioux Falls on Friday. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Brown said it happened at an above-ground valve site that had no fencing or other security.

“When deputies arrived, they observed what appeared to be a hole in the pipe, and it looked like there was burn around the hole,” Brown said, adding it was possible the vandalism was done with a blowtorch.

In Iowa, Mahaska County Sheriff Russell Van Renterghem said it appears someone used a torch to cut a hole in the pipeline at an above-ground safety valve site southeast of Des Moines. He said it appears the culprit maneuvered under a fence around the facility. The incident was discovered March 13.

Local, state and FBI officials are investigating the incidents. No suspects were immediately identified in either case.

The $3.8 billion pipeline runs 1,200 miles through the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois. State officials in North Dakota, Iowa and Illinois on Tuesday said they were not aware of any pipeline attacks in their states.

Company attorney William Scherman said in the court documents that ETP still plans to have oil flowing this week through the pipeline.

Environmental activists who tried to disrupt some oil pipeline operations in four states last year to protest the Dakota Access pipeline said Tuesday that they weren’t responsible for any recent attacks on that pipeline.

Jay O’Hara with the Climate Disobedience Center told the AP that Climate Direct Action wasn’t involved, and he wasn’t aware of anyone claiming responsibility.

In October, Climate Direct Action activists tried to shut valves on pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Washington to show support for Dakota Access opponents. Other than that, “we have nothing in the works,” O’Hara said.

The Red Warrior Society, a pipeline protest group that advocated aggressive tactics such as confrontations with pipeline security and police in North Dakota last year, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux, attorneys for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who are leading the legal battle against the pipeline, said the tribes don’t encourage or condone acts of violence against pipeline property.

The company’s reports of attacks didn’t change the plan of authorities in North Dakota to reopen a stretch of highway that was closed for months due to pipeline protests. Part of state Highway 1806 was shut down in late October after a bridge was damaged by fires during protests.

Authorities on Friday began allowing public traffic with the assistance of pilot cars escorting vehicles over the 9-mile stretch near the site where pipeline opponents camped for months. The camps were cleared out and shut down late last month in advance of spring flooding season.

The highway was being fully reopened without pilot cars at midday Tuesday, according to Morton County sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller.

Authorities also are slowly shuttering a law enforcement staging area that was set up last summer in the protest camp area. There is no set timeline for removing the last officers and structures, but Keller and state Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong indicated it’s likely to happen soon after oil begins flowing through the pipeline.

“That’s going to be the sort of flash point for us,” Fong said.