Oil pipeline protesters unfurl huge banner at Vikings game

By Dave Campbell, AP Pro Football Writer

Protesters trying to stymie the Dakota Access oil pipeline sneaked up on a truss connected to the roof and rappelled down to unfurl a huge banner inside U.S. Bank Stadium during the Minnesota Vikings' season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline rappel from the catwalk in U.S. Bank Stadium during the first half of an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Protesters trying to stymie the Dakota Access oil pipeline sneaked up on a truss connected to the roof and rappelled down to unfurl a huge banner inside U.S. Bank Stadium during the Minnesota Vikings' season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Play was not interrupted on the field during Sunday's game, but eight rows of fans seated below the banner were cleared as a precaution. The two protesters — a man and a woman — were later arrested for trespassing, Minneapolis police spokesman Officer Corey Schmidt said.

The banner urged Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank to divest from the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline. Opponents contend the pipeline could affect drinking water and Native American artifacts. Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners says the pipeline will be safe.

The protesters rappelled into place during the second quarter, and then hung in a seated position about 100 feet above the seats that were evacuated for safety. The pair watched the rest of the game, occasionally shifting positions or waving at people in sections behind the east end zone. One wore a purple Brett Favre Vikings jersey.

Authorities declined to aggressively remove them out of safety concerns.

A similar scenario unfolded last season in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a game between the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. Two protesters rappelled down from the upper deck with a banner opposing stadium sponsor Bank of America's role in financing a liquefied natural gas export facility.

U.S. Bank Stadium operator SMG released a statement saying the two Minneapolis protesters apparently climbed over a guard rail to access the ridge truss. Police spoke with them from a catwalk in attempt to get them to stop, and by the fourth quarter about a half-dozen police and firefighters in rappelling gear were on the truss waiting to remove the pair.

But the protesters willingly climbed up their ropes as soon as the game was over. After speaking with authorities, they climbed down the stairs toward the concourse while being booed by a handful of fans who stayed to watch.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team's only concern is about the "safety of our fans and guests."

Protesters say U.S. Bank has extended a large credit line to Energy Transfer Partners. U.S. Bank spokesman Dana Ripley declined comment.

The pipeline would carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois where it can be shipped on to users. Protesters camped in North Dakota for months to try to stop completion of construction.

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