(Adds statement on timeline from company)
By Chris Michaud and Stephanie Keith
NEW YORK/CANNON BALL, N.D., Nov 21 Police fired
tear gas and water at hundreds of protesters in the freezing
North Dakota weather late Sunday and early Monday, in the latest
violent clash over a pipeline project running through the state.
An estimated 400 protesters mounted the Backwater Bridge
just north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and attempted to force
their way past police in what the Morton County Sheriff's
Department described as an "ongoing riot."
The $3.7 billion Dakota Access project has drawn steady
opposition from activists since the summer, led by the Standing
Rock Sioux tribe, whose tribal lands are adjacent to the
pipeline. Native American activists and environmentalists say
the line threatens water resources and sacred tribal lands.
A joint statement from several activist groups said
protesters Sunday were trying to remove burned vehicles blocking
Backwater Bridge in order to restore access to the nearby
Standing Rock Sioux encampments so emergency services and local
traffic can move freely.
Police fired volleys of tear gas at the protesters to
prevent them from crossing the bridge. Law enforcement also
fired rubber bullets and sprayed protesters with water in
temperatures that reached as low as 18 Fahrenheit (minus 8
"It is below freezing right now and the Morton County
Sheriff's Department is using a water cannon on our people -
that is an excessive and potentially deadly use of force," said
Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesman for the Indigenous
Environmental Network, one of the organizations involved in
Completion of the pipeline, set to run 1,172 miles (1,885
km) from North Dakota to Illinois, was delayed in September so
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could re-examine permits that
would allow construction under the Missouri River, near to the
The main company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer
Partners LP, is building the line to bring crude oil
from North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf Coast.
On an analyst call Monday to discuss ETP's merger with its
sister company Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, officials
said they still expect final approval for the pipeline by the
end of this year. Officials did not address the protests.
A statement from the sheriff's' department said one arrest
had been made by 8:30 p.m. local time (0230 GMT Monday), about
2-1/2 hours after the incident began 45 miles (30 km) south of
Bismarck, the North Dakota capital. About 100 to 200 protesters
remained after midnight.
The Morton County Sheriff's Department said officers on the
scene of the latest confrontation were "describing protesters'
actions as very aggressive."
Demonstrators tried to start about a dozen fires as they
attempted to outflank and "attack" law enforcement barricades,
the sheriff's statement said. Police said protesters had hurled
rocks and burning logs, striking one officer.
Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe,
said law enforcement is escalating the violence.
"They say these are non-lethal weapons, but a water cannon
in freezing weather is lethal. Using concussion grenades with
tear gas can be lethal," he said.
The latest confrontation began Sunday evening, after
protesters attempted to remove a truck that had been on the
bridge since Oct. 27, police said.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the
Backwater Bridge, which crosses Cantapeta Creek north of the
Standing Rock Sioux tribe's camp, after vehicles were burned on
Oct. 27. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had also asked Morton
County law enforcement to prevent protesters from trespassing on
Supporters of the pipeline said the project offers the most
direct route for taking shale oil from North Dakota to Gulf
Coast refineries and would be safer than road or rail
The Army Corps of Engineers last week said they will need
more consultations with Native American tribes, even though the
Corps said they had followed all legal requirements for
President-elect Donald Trump has not commented specifically
on Dakota Access, but he has in the past been supportive of
pipeline development. Should a decision be delayed to his term,
the pipeline could be approved.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud in New York and Stephanie Keith in
Cannon Ball, North Dakota; Editing by David Gaffen and Lisa