The company that built the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace and other groups on Tuesday, alleging that they disseminated false and misleading information about the project and interfered with its construction.
In its lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in North Dakota, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners requests damages that could approach $1 billion.
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The company alleges that the groups' actions interfered with its business, facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism, incited violence, targeted financial institutions that backed the project and violated racketeering and defamation laws. The company seeks a trial and monetary damages, noting that disruptions to construction alone cost it at least $300 million and requesting triple damages.
The group of defendants "is comprised of rogue environmental groups and militant individuals who employ a pattern of criminal activity and a campaign of misinformation for purposes of increasing donations and advancing their political or business agendas," the company said in a statement.
Greenpeace attorney Tom Wetterer said the lawsuit is "meritless" and part of "a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies."
The lawsuit is "not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation," Wetterer said.
Two other defendants, BankTrack and Earth First, did not immediately reply to requests for comment. BankTrack, based in The Netherlands, encourages commercial banks to be ecologically responsible. Florida-based Earth First advocates for both environmental and indigenous causes.
The 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) Dakota Access pipeline began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois June 1, after months of delays caused by legal wrangling and on-the-ground protests by American Indian tribes and groups that feared environmental and cultural harm — a claim the company rejects. Police made 761 arrests in North Dakota between August and February.
ETP levies numerous accusations against what it labels a vast network of co-conspiring groups and people, including Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, two Des Moines, Iowa, women who have publicly claimed to have vandalized the pipeline. Their home was raided by the FBI earlier this month.
The company alleges that members of the network used torches to cut holes in the pipeline, manufactured phony satellite coordinates of Indian cultural sites along the pipeline's path, exploited the Standing Rock Sioux, launched cyberattacks on company computer systems, damaged company equipment, threatened the lives of company executives, supported ecoterrorism and even funded a drug trafficking operation within protest camps.
"The scheme's dissemination of negative information devastated the market reputation of Energy Transfer as well as the business relationships vital to its operation and growth," the lawsuit states.
Four Sioux tribes in the Dakotas, including the Standing Rock, are continuing to fight the pipeline in federal court in Washington, D.C., hoping to convince a judge to shut it down.
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