A federal appeals court is scheduled Wednesday to hear a tribe’s request for an injunction to halt construction on an oil pipeline in North Dakota.
The oil industry is on edge after the Obama Administration temporarily blocked work on part of the 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline.
So are some residents who live near the camps where people have gathered to protest the project. Like them, Tom Wheeler was once skeptical of pipelines.
“I did not want my land tore up with these pipelines,” he said. “But in the end you have to have pipelines in order to save the roads.”
A few years ago, large trucks carried crude past his house in the Bakken oil patch. Since then, traffic’s died down and the potholes disappeared now that oil, gas and wastewater lines cross his property.
Now, Wheeler said he's OK with projects like Dakota Access.
“It's going to get the crude oil to places that need it, that can use it,” he said. “If we could use it all in North Dakota, it wouldn't matter. But we can't.”
Protesters who oppose the pipeline have said a potential spill would contaminate the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s drinking water. The tribe has sued, trying to stop the project from crossing under the river upstream.
The protests have disrupted life for residents along the Missouri River like Dee Beckler, who lives near the protest camps on the remote prairie next to the reservation. She said she’s friends with some of the tribal members.
“But I disagree with what’s going on right now with them,” she said.
Beckler needs to drive through a National Guard checkpoint once a week to run errands.
“We all just think it’s ridiculous that we’ve got to be on pins and needles down here not knowing what's gonna happen," she said.
But some residents side with the protesters. Sharon Usselman shares their concerns the pipeline will leak. She admires the tents, tepees and tribal flags that line the camps.
“It’s really amazing. It’s beautiful,” she said. “I mean, it seriously is beautiful with all the flags and everything.”
More oil in North Dakota is carried by pipeline now than rail or truck. Dakota Access supporters point to deadly accidents involving oil transported by rail as a reason to use pipelines instead.
But pipelines aren’t totally safe. Federal data show 77 spills or other significant incidents with crude lines just last year, though there were no fatalities.