The violent escalation of the standoff over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) transcends stated local issues of water quality and tribal vs. private land rights, to become a symptom of significant challenges facing the U.S. energy industry going forward, analysts told Hart Energy.

Law enforcement officers arrested 141 protesters during an operation to clear an encampment at a construction site in Morton County, N.D., on Oct. 27. The protesters—members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, environmental activists and other sympathizers—claim that the routing of the petroleum liquids pipeline under the Missouri River would put the tribe’s water supply at risk. The tribe also contends that private land in the area purchased by Energy Transfer Partners LP (NYSE: ETP) belongs to the tribe according to terms of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty.

“While the public face of these protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline is Native American tribe members [or proxy interests], the underlying grassroots coordination is through environmental advocates supportive of a ‘keep-it-in-the-ground’ policy,” veteran Washington-based energy analyst John Kneiss told Hart Energy. He believes those environmental interests were emboldened by the Obama administration’s denial of a trans-boundary permit by TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP) to build the Keystone XL Pipeline.

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