A Sioux tribe's environmental concerns over the Dakota Access pipeline's potential impact on the Standing Rock reservation's water supply are "unfounded," according to an internal memo sent to Energy Transfer Partners employees Tuesday.
Kelcy Warren, the chairman and CEO of the company building the pipeline, made the remark in an extensive three-page memo sent to NBC News by a company representative. The remarks are the first public comments from the company since the Obama administration last week temporarily shut down construction on one part of the pipeline. The section of work that was stalled came within a half-mile of the reservation, which straddles the North and South Dakota border.
The administration overruled a federal judge Friday who had denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request to halt work on the pipeline, a project the tribe says threatens to destroy its ancient, ancestral lands.
Part of the pipeline would cross Sioux lands and run under the Missouri River, the tribe's sole water source, drawing concerns from environmentalists and tribe leaders that a potential oil spill could devastate the reservation. Warren noted in the memo that the pipeline was designed with "tremendous safety factors" that exceeded all existing safety and environmental regulations in order to prevent such a scenario.
Warren also added that the Dallas-based company remained "committed to completing construction and safely operating the Dakota Access Pipeline within the confines of the law." He announced in the letter that company representatives would meet with officials in Washington, D.C., to "understand their position" and reiterate this commitment.
In the memo, Warren also criticized the Standing Rock's central argument in their suit, which is that the tribe was never adequately consulted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which has jurisdiction over the land — before granting Energy Transfer Partners fast track approval for the project in July. Warren wrote that the company had worked to meet with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leaders on "multiple occasions in the past two years" and that the company had provided the U.S. Army Corps data for their "389 meetings with more than 55 tribes across the project, including nine with The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at Lake Oahe."
A company spokesperson said that Energy Transfer Partners had no further comment at this time.
The pipeline protests have drawn thousands to the construction site, making it a hot-button issue in the Native American community in particular. It has also opened a wider national debate on corporations' ability to encroach on Native American lands.
"This communication from ETP is indicative of the kind of company they are," Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told NBC News. "It has zero disclosed policies on corporate social responsibility, community engagement, human rights or Indigenous rights."
Archambault added that Energy Transfer Partners is currently fighting lawsuits in numerous states for ground water contamination.
According to the National Lawyers Guild, the nation's oldest and largest human rights bar association, there are pending lawsuits against ETP by the states of New Jersey, Vermont, Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the city of Breaux Bridge in Louisiana, over methyl tertiary-butyl ether, known as MTBE, contamination of groundwater.
The Dakota Access pipeline, which is already more than half completed, is a massive $3.7 billion project that would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day across four states from the oil fields in Stanley, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, to Patoka in southern Illinois, where it would link with other existing pipelines.