US President Barack Obama said the US government is examining ways to reroute an oil pipeline in North Dakota in a video interview with the online news site NowThis, following protests by Native American tribes protesting against its construction.
Native Americans say the $3.8 billion Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) project would disturb sacred land and pollute waterways.
On Wednesday, protesters on the banks of the Cantapeta Creek confronted law enforcement, as they attempted to build a wooden pedestrian bridge across the creek to gain access to the Cannon Ball Ranch, private land owned by ETP, according to a statement from Morton County officials.
"My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline," Obama said, addressing the escalating clashes between local authorities and protesters.
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He said government agencies will let the situation "play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans."
The US Department of Justice did not comment on Obama's statement regarding rerouting the line, citing pending litigation involving the tribes and an ongoing review of permitting by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
"Ultimately, this is a determination the Army must make based on its own review, and we don’t yet know what that decision will be," a Justice Department spokesman said.
The US Justice and Interior Departments along with the Army Corps of Engineers halted construction on part of the pipeline in September due to protests by Native American tribes who contend the pipeline would disturb sacred land and pollute waterways supplying nearby homes.
The affected area includes land under Lake Oahe, a large and culturally important reservoir on the Missouri River where the line was supposed to cross.
The Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Wednesday that it let law enforcement go into this land to prevent further campsites from being set up.
David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, in a Wednesday statement lauded Obama's comments and called on the administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a stop-work order on the pipeline on federal land. He also called for a full environmental impact study.
Current route of the 1,885km pipeline would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to US Gulf Coast refineries.
But some have said an alternative pipeline route could be a way to get over the impasse. North Dakota gubernatorial candidate Marvin Nelson, a Democratic state representative, said in an interview with Reuters last week that moving the route 16 km north could make a difference.
"It would take some time to do that, but it seems to me to be a much safer route and it wouldn't need to cross culturally sensitive land," he said.
North Dakota officials are girding for a long fight. The state's emergency commission on Tuesday approved another $4 million loan to support law enforcement during the protests.
Environmental group 350.org urged Obama to reject the federal permit for the entire project due to the risk to water supplies and the climate.
"President Obama breaking the silence on Dakota Access is a testament to the powerful resistance of Indigenous leaders, but he shouldn't sit back while people are facing violent repression from militarised law enforcement on the ground," said Sara Shor, a campaign manager for 350.org.