BISMARCK - North Dakota Democrats running for congressional, statewide and legislative office proposed Thursday a state-owned oil refinery and rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline as potential solutions to the ongoing dispute over the four-state oil pipeline.
Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member and Fort Yates attorney challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer for North Dakota's lone U.S. House seat, joined other candidates in calling for better communication between state government, protesters and pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas.
"We feel that we can reach a peaceable resolution but that all sides need to be talking to each other," Iron Eyes said during a press conference at a Bismarck hotel. "The eyes of the world are on North Dakota right now."
Iron Eyes, District 30 House candidate Tom Asbridge of Bismarck and District 34 Senate candidate David Gipp of Mandan, a Standing Rock Sioux member and former president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, suggested the state-owned Bank of North Dakota partner with private investors to build a major oil refinery to create jobs and reduce export of crude oil.
"I'm not saying we could eliminate all of the pipeline issue, but we could vastly reduce it," Gipp said, though Iron Eyes later acknowledged the state would have to export refined product and "we're not going to ever get away from the pipeline issue."
Asbridge said if the Dakota Access Pipeline must be built, it should run north of Bismarck - an alternative route the company considered early on but eliminated in favor of the current route that crosses the Missouri River less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Iron Eyes said they're not anti-oil, but the state needs leadership to incentivize and facilitate such action.
"Because no matter what we say, there are 4,000 people that are willing to engage in civil disobedience to protect their interests," he said, referring to the self-described "water protectors" encamped just north of the reservation.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said he's comfortable that Dakota Access chose the route and "went through the proper process." As for the refinery idea, he noted the Tesoro refinery that opened near Dickinson in May 2015 was the country's first new refinery since the 1970s.
"Even if that idea had any merit, you are more than likely a decade out from that even being a possibility," he said. "It's not as simple as saying build a refinery here and then we won't have to move as much oil. ... Right now we need serious solutions and not overly simplistic ones."
Also speaking at Thursday's press conference were state insurance commissioner candidate Ruth Buffalo of Mandaree, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation; Public Service Commission candidate Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, a Standing Rock member from Bismarck; and District 28 Senate candidate Dustin Peyer of Driscoll.
The Standing Rock tribe claims in its lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the agency violated the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws in issuing permits for the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline, which will stretch from the Bakken oilfields to Patoka, Ill., and is more than 60 percent completed.
Construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe is on hold as the Corps and courts consider the tribe's claims that it wasn't properly consulted and that the project should have undergone more extensive review.