A growing protest led by hundreds of Native Americans stopped construction of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota on Tuesday.
Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier of Morton County ordered the workers to stop on builder Dakota Access’ pipeline after protesters surged into the construction zone, the Bismarck Tribune reported. It’s unclear when work will resume, the sheriff told the newspaper.
The $3.8 billion-project will funnel 500,000 barrels of crude per day from North Dakota to Illinois later this year. Members of the Sioux tribe have argued the pipeline will pollute drinking water as it crosses the Missouri and Little Missouri rivers and will disturb sacred sites.
The rivers are a water source for thousands of residents from the reservation and millions more downstream.
“I am here to advise anyone that will listen, that the Dakota Access Pipeline Project is harmful,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II said in a statement on Monday. “It will not be just harmful to my people but its intent and construction will harm the water in the Missouri River, which is one of the cleanest and safest river tributary left in the United States.
“Our Mother Earth is sacred. All things evolve and work together. To poison the water, is to poison the substance of life. Everything that moves must have water. How can we talk about and knowingly poison water?”
The company has claimed that valves can be quickly shut if any leak is detected, as it has round-the-clock monitoring.
Tuesday’s confrontation signaled that the conflict is escalating after months of simmering tension. On Monday, Dakota Access officials sought a restraining order and monetary damages in federal court against Archambault and other demonstrators, the Associated Press reported.
Last week, Archambault was one of at least 18 protesters arrested for charges like disorderly conduct and trespassing. The video below shows a portion of that confrontation as law enforcement took demonstrators into custody:
The stepped up protests, which in recent days have attracted supporters from other tribes, pose a risk to workers and law authorities at the construction site, the company’s lawsuit alleged. Armed security guards brought in by corporate officials have kept watch over the protesters.
Builders started work on the pipeline last week, but members of the Standing Rock tribe have planted themselves at a so-called “spirit camp” nearby for months.
The tribe filed a lawsuit last month against the Army Corps of Engineers for approving the pipeline.
Environmentalists like Bill McKibben have expressed their support for the protesters’ cause.