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The U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") recently vowed to take legal action against protesters and activists who damage oil pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The verdict came in response to the letter sent by more than 80 U.S. representatives inquiring whether the activists who damaged energy infrastructure in October 2016 could be charged under the domestic terrorism law. The letter, which was sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is still under review.  

In support of the question raised by the representatives, DOJ stated that the damage done by activists could disrupt services and consequently affect people’s lives. The damages can also burden taxpayers and even put lives at risk. The damaged pipelines can also hurt the environment. The DOJ’s decision can increase the persisting tension between climate activists and the administrative board.

Although the DOJ’s legal actions will lead lawmakers to distinguish between lawful and unlawful protests, the department is yet to shed light on last year’s events where activists protested in four states. The protestors twisted shut valves on a few pipelines, which were responsible for crude oil imports from Canada. The Climate Direct Action group said that the action was in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe has been vocal about the Dakota Access Pipeline operated by Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP - Free Report) , as it can cause damage to the tribe's burial ground and pollute its waters. The controversial pipeline has witnessed protests since the time it of its planning. Energy Transfer started construction of the pipeline in June 2016 with oil and gas companies like Phillips 66 (PSX - Free Report) , Enbridge Inc. (ENB - Free Report) and Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC - Free Report) as minor partners. 

There are cases where activists have been recognized and penalized for their actions. A protestor was sentenced for 32 days for illegally tampering with a Kinder Morgan (KMI - Free Report) pipeline in Washington. The construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline by Williams Partners L.P. (WPZ - Free Report) through Lancaster County also faced protests. Recently, five protesters were arrested in Martic Township for creating obstacles at the construction site.

What Lies Ahead?

Instances of damage to energy infrastructure are expected to go down following the decision taken by the DOJ. The actions will also assure oil and gas companies of the safety of their assets. However, the decision may ignite another controversy regarding protests against climate changes.

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