More than 80 people protesting a controversial North Dakota oil
pipeline project were arrested Saturday and pepper spray was
used in what the sheriff's department called a "riot."
Saturday's arrests occurred in a confrontation with police after
around 300 demonstrators trespassed on private property along
the Dakota Access Pipeline project's right of way, the Morton
County Sheriff's Office said.
Protests have been held for more than two months against the
project, which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the pipeline
project would destroy some of its sacred sites.
The confrontation between police and protesters began at 5:20
a.m. Saturday and lasted five hours, according to the sheriff's
office spokesman Rob Keller. Protesters have camped for weeks
about five miles from the site, close to where the Missouri and
Cannonball rivers meet.
The sheriff department's statement said law enforcement officers
decided to use pepper spray when protesters tried to breach the
line they had created between the demonstration and construction
equipment. It added that a protester disarmed an officer and
used his own pepper spray against him, blinding him for up to
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Saturday's
confrontation shows "that this protest is not peaceful or
A section of a state highway had to be shut down because of the
protests, but has since reopened.
"It was obvious to our officers who responded that the
protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior
during this event," Kirchmeier said in a statement. "This
protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators
with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities."
Eight-three people were arrested in all, the sheriff's office
Four of those arrested Saturday had attempted to attach
themselves to a sports utility vehicle parked on private
property close to the construction equipment. Two fastened
themselves to the exterior of the car, one bound himself to the
steering wheel, and another fed his arm through a hole in the
door and had his hand stuck inside a bucket of hardened concrete.
Charges of those arrested include assault on a peace officer,
criminal trespass and engaging in a riot.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners were granted approval for
the 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline earlier this year. The
project runs from Illinois to North Dakota, cost nearly $3.8
billion and could move up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day once
Protesters, many of whom are members of the Standing Rock Sioux
Tribe, are worried about the potential environmental impact to
the Missouri River and the possible desecration of nearby sacred
sites. Plans are to cross under the riverbed less than a mile
from the tribe's reservation.