The head of the Dallas-based company building the Dakota Access oil pipeline said the company will not consider rerouting it to address American Indian concerns but would like to meet with the head of a tribe to try to ease concerns about the project.
Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners said the company has no alternative than to stick to its plan for the $3.8 billion pipeline, which would ship oil from North Dakota to Illinois and is nearly completed. By December, all but one section of the 1,200-mile, four-state pipeline will be completed – the stretch that skirts the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and under a Missouri River reservoir, where hundreds of protestors have gathered and repeatedly clashed with authorities.
"I'm sure some of them are peaceful. And then there are large percentages of them that are not peaceful. They're violent people that just want to stop all hydrocarbon production,” Warren said in an exclusive interview with FOX 4. "There's a reason this route exists. It exists because there's already two pipelines that cross under the lake at this location. So the likelihood of any more historical sites is just very, very small."
The Army Corps of Engineers in July granted ETP the permits needed for the crossing, but the agency decided in September that further analysis was warranted given the tribe's concerns. On Monday, the Corps called for even more study and tribal input.
ETP responded the next day by asking U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to declare that it has the right to lay pipe under Lake Oahe. The judge isn't likely to issue a decision until January, at the earliest.
Warren said he would welcome the chance to meet with Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, to address the tribe's concerns that the pipeline skirting its reservation would endanger drinking water and cultural sites.
“Do you think you can find some common ground?” Ray asked Warren.
"If the common ground is to make them comfortable that we're not going to contaminate their water source, absolutely,” he replied. “If the common ground is to not build the pipeline, there is no possible way."
Archambault, who was with celebrity sympathizers who toured the tribe's protest encampment Friday, including the actors Shailene Woodley and Ezra Miller, said he'd be willing to meet with Warren but that he doesn't think it would make a difference.
"We already know what he's going to say — that this is the cleanest, safest pipeline ever," the chairman said. "What he doesn't know is that this is still an issue for Standing Rock and all indigenous people."
Last week in Austin, Warren was confronted by activists and agreed to meet with the Society of Native Nations Board Member Pete Hefflin. But Warren says that is not going to happen.
"They want reporters. They want four or five more attendees from different tribes from around the country. No, I'm not going to do that,” Warren said. “I agreed to meet with this gentleman and have a frank discussion, not with cameras, not with reporters – but rather to hear his issues and let him hear mine."
Society member Yolanda Blue Horse says the group's demands are simply about accountability.
"Public transparency as to what is going to take place in this meeting,” she said. "To at least have another group member in there, a member of the media in there, somebody to hear what is being said."
President Barack Obama is among those who have suggested the pipeline route may need to be changed over concerns that it could contaminate drinking water at the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and damage burial sites.
The matter might linger until after President-Elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump, who owns stock in ETP, has said he wants to rebuild energy infrastructure.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple asked the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up its decision on whether to allow ETP to proceed. He said at a news conference that increasingly frequent protests against the pipeline in and around the state capital have created "a tremendously challenging, tremendously difficult situation."
In the meantime, the months of protests against the pipeline continue. There have been demonstrations at the protest encampment near the site of the proposed reservoir crossing and elsewhere, including at the state Capitol and state-owned Bank of North Dakota. About 500 people have been arrested, in total.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.