The TransCanada project just skirts the Rosebud Indian Reservation. After encountering some friction while trying to put together a route, the company decided to just avoid the tribal land and go around it. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Seven Native American reservations cover about 16 percent of the entire area of South Dakota. Yet the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline threads its way right past the tribal areas.

The pipeline would start from the northwest corner of the state near Montana then move diagonally. It would run southwest of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and well north of the Pine Ridge Indian area. It narrowly misses the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and travels south of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule and west of the Yankton Reservation.

It’s a beautiful route across the South Dakota plains. But is barely missing some of the reservations an accident?

“It’s not necessarily by design,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive. “When you build a pipeline…the least environmental disturbance is a straight line form A to B.”

Avoiding Native American areas means avoiding a lot of potentially thorny negotiations with the tribes and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Most importantly, if agreement can’t be reached getting an easement through, then eminent domain is much more complicated. That takes away a major piece of leverage that TransCanada has used when dealing with individuals about getting the access it needs.

Here’s an excerpt from a Federal Highway Administration Web site about “The Acquisition of Easements over Native American Lands for Transportation Project.”

“The main difference when lands are held in trust for Native Americans is that the recourse to use eminent domain is not available, except in rare instances and then only through the federal courts. This places an emphasis on resolving and negotiating all settlements with tribal and individuals holding an interest in the trust lands required for the highway or other transportation improvement.”