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Activists target five pipelines in solidarity with Dakota Access opponents

CLEARBROOK, Minn. -- Activists who tampered Tuesday, Oct. 11, with five oil pipelines that carry Canadian crude into the United States said they're standing in solidarity with Dakota Access Pipeline opponents and calling on President Obama to pre...

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Two people from a group calling itself "Climate Direct Action" were arrested on Tuesday for tampering with this Enbridge valve station near Leonard, Minn. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

CLEARBROOK, Minn. - Activists who tampered Tuesday, Oct. 11, with five oil pipelines that carry Canadian crude into the United States said they're standing in solidarity with Dakota Access Pipeline opponents and calling on President Obama to prevent a "climate catastrophe."

The activists from Climate Direct Action said they were targeting pipelines that deliver tar sands oil from Alberta into the U.S. as a sign of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and an international call for prayer and action.

Nine people were arrested in connection with tampering with emergency valves on pipelines, including two Enbridge Energy pipelines southeast of Clearbrook and TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline near Walhalla, N.D., said Afrin Sopariwala, a spokeswoman for the group.

"They used the emergency valves because this is a climate emergency," she said.

No oil was reported spilled in any of the incidents, but the companies involved said they take the incidents very seriously.

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"The groups involved in this morning's activities claim to be protecting the environment, but their actions alone are inviting an environmental incident and put the safety of people, including themselves and potentially first responders and our employees, at risk," Enbridge said in a statement.

The group also targeted Spectra Energy's Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont., and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline at Anacortes, Wash.

Spokespeople for Enbridge, TransCanada and Spectra Energy said the companies temporarily shut down their pipelines as safety precautions. Kinder Morgan was not operating that segment of pipeline at the time.

"The actions taken to unlawfully trespass on our facility, use bolt cutters to cut chains off our valves and then attempt to turn the valves to stop the flow of oil were dangerous and reckless," Enbridge said.

TransCanada joined Enbridge in saying the company supports the prosecution of those involved.

"Vandalism which attempts to sabotage our equipment or interfere with operating machinery, poses a risk to the public, our employees, those who broke into our facility and to the environment," said TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper.

Three were arrested in North Dakota and identified by the activist group as Michael Foster, 52, Seattle, Sam Jessup and Deia Schlosberg. The ages and residences for Jessup and Schlosberg were not available.

Pembina County State's Attorney Ryan Bialas said his office is working with local and federal authorities to investigate and determine whether charges will be filed in county or federal court.

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The TransCanada pipeline was inactive for more than seven hours but the preliminary reports indicate there is no threat to the health and safety of local residents, Bialas said.

In Minnesota, authorities arrested Emily Johnston, 50, Seattle, and Annette Klapstein, 64, of Bainbridge Island, Wash. They were being held in the Clearwater County Jail.

Authorities did not immediately comment on the charges. Some of those arrested included video crews who were recording the action for social media.

Sopariwala said the activists involved have spent several years signing petitions, talking to political representatives and pursuing other legal avenues to fight climate change but the efforts haven't made a difference.

"We felt compelled to take an escalated action," she said.

The activists contacted each company to let them know what they were doing and made sure their actions wouldn't cause any environmental harm, Sopariwala said. They left sunflowers in the valves as a symbol of the world they want to build, she said.

"Our intention was not to cause damage but actually stop the damage that we're facing," Sopariwala said. "The damage and danger and the emergency we are facing far exceeds the breaking of a chain or two."

The activist group also wrote a letter to Obama calling on him to shut down tar sands pipelines and immediately mobilize a shift away from fossil fuels.

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The group said they are acting in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who fear the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline proposed to cross Lake Oahe less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation threatens their water supply and sacred sites.

Reporters John Myers and Grace Pastoor contributed to this story.

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