Native Americans Challenge Operation of Oil Pipeline

SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Nearly 50 members of three Native American tribes in North Dakota claim in a class action that Andeavor Logistics is unfairly profiting from a crude oil pipeline operating through tribal trust lands that it refuses to remove.

After a 1993 easement expired five years ago, the San Antonio-based oil refinery company did nothing to obtain a new easement from landowners to continuing running its pipeline through land at the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in San Antonio federal court by lead plaintiff Joann Chase and 47 other tribe members.

Composed of the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara Tribes, the Three Affiliated Tribes is also known as the MHA Nation.

The MHA tribe members – represented by Jason P. Steed of the Washington, D.C.,  law firm Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton – claim in their class action that Andeavor and its predecessor Tesoro have transported “millions of dollars of oil” across their federal trust land without any compensation to landowners.

According to the complaint, congressional approval is required before an easement across American Indian trust lands can be granted. In tribally owned land, tribal officials must also grant consent.

“Since 1993—in direct violation of these federal statutes and regulations—defendants’ crude oil pipeline has been operated across plaintiffs’ trust land without approval from the landowners,” the class action states.

Originally approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1953, the pipeline was constructed a short time later across multiple allotments. It was renewed by the BIA in June 1973 for an additional 20 year term, and then again in 1993.

“At all times since the 1993 easement expired, defendants have known that their pipeline was in trespass on plaintiffs’ properties, but continued to operate the pipeline without notifying plaintiffs or attempting to obtain their consent for a new easement,” the complaint states. “Today, defendants continue to willfully maintain and operate the pipeline across plaintiffs’ property in violation of law and without compensation.”

Andeavor was acquired by Marathon Petroleum Corp. on Oct. 1, according to a news release, but the new entity was not named as a defendant in Friday’s lawsuit.

A Marathon spokeswoman on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations, citing a company policy.

The acquisition made Marathon Petroleum Corp. the nation’s largest refinery company.

The tribe members seek punitive damages for claims of trespass and constructive trust.

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