FARGO, N.D. – Nearly 250 people were arrested when protesters attempting to stop the final leg of the reconstruction of an oil pipeline across northwestern Minnesota took over a pump station, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes said that 43 workers at the Enbridge Energy Line 3 pump station were trapped inside the site for some time Monday morning when demonstrators locked them in behind the front gate. Protesters also put up barricades and dug trenches across roads, “presumably in preparation" for a standoff with law enforcement, Aukes said.
The workers were eventually able to leave the site. No injuries were reported.
"This is unacceptable, and we will seek the full prosecution of all involved," Enbridge Energy spokeswoman Juli Kellner said.
Aukes said 179 people were arrested and charged with gross misdemeanor trespassing. An additional 68 people were cited for public nuisance and unlawful assembly. It was the largest show of resistance since protesters set their sights on the project.
The sheriff said demonstrators caused “a large amount of damage” to equipment “and other assets." Kellner said damage included vandalism of contractor equipment, as well as slashed tires, cut hoses, rocks and dirt in engines, forced entry into offices and destroyed electrical wiring in equipment. She did not give a damage estimate.
Demonstrators hauled in a large boat to block the main entrance to the pumping station and about 20 people barricaded themselves to it, Aukes said. The final four protesters were removed from the boat by midday Tuesday, when Kellner said some employees returned to work at the site near Park Rapids, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) east of Fargo.
Monday was billed as the Treaty People Gathering. As protesters made their move on the pump station, a separate group held a prayer service near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, before an estimated 1,000 people marched to the site where the pipeline crosses under the river. That peaceful meeting including music, prayers and speeches, including one by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben.
“The thing about climate change, it’s a timed test,” McKibben told The Associated Press before the march. “If we don’t get it right soon we will never get it right.”
Another protest against the pipeline is scheduled Thursday in Minneapolis outside the office of Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The group TakeAction Minnesota says Klobuchar should pressure President Joe Biden to halt construction of Line 3.
Environmental and tribal groups say Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace Line 3 would worsen climate change and risk spills in sensitive areas where Native Americans harvest wild rice, hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants, and claim treaty rights. The line would cross the Mississippi River while carrying Canadian tar sands oil and regular crude from Alberta and across North Dakota and Minnesota to Wisconsin.
Enbridge says the original pipeline — built in the 1960s — is deteriorating and can run at only about half its original capacity. It says the new line, made from stronger steel, will better protect the environment while restoring its capacity and ensuring reliable deliveries to U.S. refineries.