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SIOUX FALLS, S.D.
Opponents of a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast rode horses and bicycles and walked Thursday along a route from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation toward the Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota.
The protesters included tribal elders, ranchers and actress Daryl Hannah, who was arrested last summer outside the White House in a protest against TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
The 1,700-mile underground pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, ending up on Texas's Gulf Coast, would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels of oil a day, doubling the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada.
Hannah, speaking by telephone after the short ride, said the pipeline threatens to contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive water supply in South Dakota and seven other states, and would further increase the nation's dependence on oil.
"This pipeline will only shackle us to a future of being absolutely dependent on this dirtiest of fossil fuels," she told The Associated Press.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that his administration has made no decision on whether TransCanada Corp, the Calgary-based company building the pipeline, can move ahead with its plans.
A message left Thursday with a TransCanada spokesman was not immediately returned.
The company last week offered new safeguards it said would limit the effect of a potential spill, but company executives maintained they cannot move the proposed route at this point in the federal permitting process.
Supporters say the $7 billion project could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, while opponents say it would bring "dirty oil" that requires huge amounts of energy to extract and could cause an ecological disaster in case of a spill.
Tribal members said that the proposed route also crosses the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System, directly threatening the water supply of both reservations. They also questioned TransCanada's use of eminent domain along the route.
Alex White Plume, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said cowboys along the proposed pipeline route are the new Indians, having their land stolen from them by a foreign intruder.
"Now cowboys and Indians are united in our fight against TransCanada's tar sands oil pipeline," he said in a statement.
Hannah said it was special to visit the Pine Ridge reservation and see tribal elders and ranchers working together in their efforts.
She said the Occupy protests throughout the country have given residents hope that they can be heard above large corporations.
"People realize they have a voice," she said. "They don't have to be the silent masses anymore. They can speak up against the injustices, whether they're economic, environmental or social."
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe in 2008 also opposed the original Keystone pipeline built to move crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma.
Tribal representative Russell Eagle Bear said at the time that although the route did not cross tribal land, he wanted to make sure that cultural properties important to Native Americans were protected along the route.
The Rosebud Sioux and three other tribes in the Dakotas also filed a federal lawsuit to block construction of the original pipeline, arguing that treaties, as well as federal laws and regulations, were broken during the environmental assessment of the route and granting of a presidential permit.
A judge dismissed the complaint in 2009, saying the tribes didn't show a treaty basis or that the government failed in its duties.