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Judge orders shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline in victory for Native American tribes

Judge orders shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline in victory for Native American tribes
[Photo: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue]

In a victory for Native American tribes concerned about the impact of an oil spill, a federal judge has ordered a temporary shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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The $3.8 billion pipeline carries crude oil beneath Lake Oahe, which is behind the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River between North Dakota and South Dakota.

The court already found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted Dakota Access an easement to build and operate the pipeline without producing the necessary environmental impact statement.

The court ordered that the pipeline be emptied within 30 days.

“Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake. Today they finally achieve that goal—at least for the time being,” Judge James Boasberg, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote in his opinion today.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is the plaintiff and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the plaintiff-intervenor.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed a request for reaction to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment.

“We believe that the ruling issued this morning from Judge Boasberg is not supported by the law or the facts of the case,” Energy Transfer, which owns Dakota Access, said in a written statement. “Furthermore, we believe that Judge Boasberg has exceeded his authority in ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than three years. We will be immediately pursuing all available legal and administrative processes and are confident that once the law and full record are fully considered Dakota Access Pipeline will not be shut down and that oil will continue to flow.”

The shutdown is likely to last 13 months, the amount of time time the Corps estimated it’ll take to prepare the environmental impact statement.

Defendant Dakota Access had argued, in part, that shutting down the pipeline would cause significant harm the economy, result in substantial job losses and seriously impact North Dakota’s oil industry. The Dakota Access Pipeline can carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude daily.

“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect” Boasberg wrote. “It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to [pipeline], the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states. Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease.”

Though in 2016, the Corps had put the construction of the pipeline on hold, it reversed itself in 2017, at the urging of the then-new White House administration, according to the decision. The pipeline got its permit, was built, and went into service.

The 30-inch underground pipeline runs 1,172 miles from the Bakken/Three Forks production area in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, according to the company’s website.

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