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Q&A: The 4-state, $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline

BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal judge has said he'll rule by today on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's lawsuit that challenges federal permits for the four-state, $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline.

The lawsuit alleges that the pipeline, which would be placed less than a mile upstream from the reservation, could affect drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions who rely on it downstream. There also have been skirmishes between protesters and private security guards on private land, where the tribe says construction has disturbed ancient, sacred sites.

Some things to know about the pipeline and the tribe's ongoing protest:

WHAT IS THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE? Owned by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP, the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project would carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota's oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill., where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.

WHAT IS THE LAWSUIT TARGETING? The tribe sued federal regulators for approving the oil pipeline, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings. Filed on behalf of the tribe by the environmental group Earthjustice, the suit says the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and will disturb sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million-acre reservation.

IS THE PIPELINE SAFE? ETP says the pipeline includes safeguards such as leak-detection equipment, and workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close block valves on it within three minutes if a breach is detected.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED AT THE PROTEST? Since April, a nonviolent tribal protest mostly by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been set up at a "spirit camp" at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers in the path of the pipeline.

It has grown considerably, as they've been joined by other American Indians and others from across the country, including Divergent actor Shailene Woodley.

But the protest has become heated, with nearly 40 arrested, including Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II. None of the arrests stemmed from Saturday's confrontation between protesters and construction workers.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and running mate Ajamu Baraka camped with protesters Monday, and her campaign spokeswoman said Stein spray-painted construction equipment Tuesday. Stein and Baraka have been charged with misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and criminal mischief.

North Dakota authorities are recruiting law enforcement officers from across the state to guard the site of the protest in anticipation of U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's ruling.

WHAT ABOUT CULTURAL SITES? Last weekend, tribal officials said crews bulldozed several sites of "significant cultural and historic value" on private land, which Energy Transfer Partners denies.

It led to Saturday's clash between protesters and security guards hired by the pipeline company. Law enforcement officials said four security guards and two guard dogs received medical treatment, while a tribal spokesman countered that six people were bitten by guard dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.

On Tuesday, Boasberg partially granted the tribe's request to temporarily stop work near Lake Oahe to prevent the destruction of more sacred sites, but not on the private land that sparked the protest.

North Dakota chief archaeologist Paul Picha plans to inspect the area, likely next week.

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