KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The debate over the construction of an oil pipeline near a Native American reservation in North Dakota is now a national issue.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in Native American language).
MCEVERS: These are demonstrators outside the White House today. The CEO of the company that's building the pipeline now says it will finish the project even as the company removed some of its equipment from a construction site. NPR's Jeff Brady is in North Dakota and joins us now from Bismarck. Hi there, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hello.
MCEVERS: So why did this company - and it's called Energy Transfer Partners - remove its equipment from the site if it does plan to go ahead and build this pipeline?
BRADY: Yeah, the equipment, it was removed from just one section of the pipeline, that area right around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that has generated so much controversy recently. The U.S. government has stopped construction on federal land in that area right near the Missouri River where the pipeline route would go under the river. And the government asked Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily stop construction for 20 miles in either direction. The company's doing that. And since they aren't building anything, they don't need that equipment there. So this afternoon, about 30 bulldozers, graders, backhoes and other pieces of equipment were removed from the site.
MCEVERS: This is really the first time we've heard from the company since the government's announcement. I mean, what else did the company say?
BRADY: Yeah, we've been trying to get Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren to talk with us for a few days now. We haven't been able to really even get a statement from him or his company. But this morning, the company released a memo that he sent out to his employees, and in that he said the project is 60 percent complete. The company has spent more than $1.6 billion on the 1,100-mile pipeline so far. And he says he's committed to finishing the project. And Warren said there's been a lot of misinformation from pipeline opponents, and he plans to engage more in the conversation, the public conversation, in coming days to clear things up.
MCEVERS: Well, what does he say is that misinformation?
BRADY: Yeah, in that memo he points specifically to the claim from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that the pipeline route crosses burial grounds and that federal regulators didn't do enough to consult with the tribe before the construction started. Warren said the company did meet with the tribe in the years before construction. Tribal leaders tell me they weren't satisfied with the level of consultation, though.
And another point that Warren makes is that the entire portion of the route in question already has a pipeline on it, a natural gas pipeline that was installed in 1982. And he says there were extensive surveys done, and a state archaeologist determined there were no significant sites affected. So tribal leaders say these archaeologists - they say they don't have the necessary training to identify sacred areas.
MCEVERS: And what about the protesters who have been camped near this construction site that's now been shut down? I mean, are they still there? Are they still protesting?
BRADY: They are still there. The camp has dwindled a little bit from the weekend as a few people have left. And the protests are definitely happening. I just received word that 22 people were arrested at another job site today. So they're traveling away from the protest camp, going to new job sites, and today 22 people were arrested for blocking some of that construction. And, you know, at those camp sites, they're vowing to stay there until the pipeline project is canceled. You've got the CEO vowing to finish the project. We're just going to have to wait and see who succeeds.
MCEVERS: Sounds like it's not going to end any time soon.
BRADY: No, I don't think so.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Jeff Brady in Bismarck, N.D. Thank you very much.
BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.