President Obama said Wednesday that a re-routing of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline project now under construction is being considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to resolve the stalemate among developers, Native American tribal opponents and the federal government (see Shale Daily, Oct. 14).

The president’s remarks drew instant support from the Standing Rock Sioux, who are leading opposition to the project, and equally quick rejection from pipeline supporters, who contend that the nearly 1,200-mile project through four upper Midwest states has already been thoroughly vetted and is 70% completed.

On a social media interview podcast, Obama said as a “general rule, 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.” He said a decision is still “several more weeks” away.

Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, cheered the president’s interview, calling it a “commitment to protect our sacred lands” and adding that while the USACE is examining the issue “we call on the administration and the Corps to issue an immediate ‘stop work order’ on the project.”

He cited the nation and the world as “watching” what he called “injustices done to Native people” in North Dakota and throughout the country that need to be addressed.

In contrast, Craig Stevens, a spokesperson for a business/labor coalition supporting the project, the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), said while rerouting the pipeline near the disputed portion slated to cross under a dam-created lake in the Missouri River “sounds simple enough; it would be, in fact, incredibly difficult, and it might be impossible.

“Even if possible, rerouting the line would require years to complete, new easements, new environmental and cultural studies, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Stevens went on to reiterate what the project backers at Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and MAIN have been saying: the current route only passes through about 35 miles of federally controlled land, does not cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and it is co-located with a 30-year-old natural gas pipeline so as to ensure that it avoids culturally significant sites.

While Native American and anti-fossil fuel activists have widened the protest to include banks that have financed the pipeline project (see Shale Daily, Oct. 31), industry sources have sounded more alarms about the possible chilling effect this could have on future energy infrastructure projects (see Shale Daily, Sept. 13).