Administration Overturns Federal Court Ruling, Halts Work on $3.8 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline
In a surprise statement on Friday, the Obama administration said that it would not issue the easements necessary for construction to begin on a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline project planned to run under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, just north of the boundaries of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
The unusual joint statement by the Department of Justice, the Army, and the Interior Department came less than an hour after District Judge James E. Boasberg of the District Court for the District of Columbia denied the tribe’s request for an injunction to temporarily stop construction. The agencies are currently deciding whether they need to reconsider permitting decisions for the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The $3.8 billion pipeline is not planned to cross the reservation but will cross land the tribe considers sacred. As a result, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Historic Preservation Act on July 28.
Dakota Access to Provide Safe Takeaway for Bakken Oil, Economic Benefits to States
The project is being built by Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, and will transport 470,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) with a capacity as high as 570,000 BOPD or more, which is approximately half of current daily Bakken crude production. The company had planned for the pipeline to be operational by Jan. 1, 2017.
The Dakota Access Pipeline will cross 49 counties and be only seven miles shorter than TransCanada’s rejected Keystone XL pipeline. Ninety-nine percent of the pipeline route crosses private land and 48 percent has already been completed. Only 37 miles, three percent, of the planned route that crosses streams and waters in 209 locations requires a federal permit.
When completed, the pipeline will transport light sweet crude oil 1,172-miles through a 30-inch diameter pipe from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill. From there it will connect with existing oil networks to access the Midwest and East Coast markets as well as the Gulf Coast via the Nederland, Texas crude oil storage terminal facility of Sunoco Logistics Partners.
In addition to lessening the strain on the upper Midwest rail system and providing safer, more efficient takeaway for Bakken crude, estimated benefits of the pipeline include:
- 8,000-12,000 jobs during construction
- Increased demand for steel pipes ,fitting, valves, pumps, and control devices
- Millions in state and local revenues during construction phase
- $156 million in sales and income taxes
- $55 million annually in property taxes to North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois
Boasberg, Corps of Engineers, and Dakota Access Argue Necessary Steps Were Taken
In his ruling denying the injunction, Boasberg reported that the Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access fully complied with the law in approving permits and concluded that the tribe had not demonstrated that “irreparable harm would ensue” from construction.
Boasberg noted that the Standing Rock Sioux declined several requests to meet with federal and company officials in the initial assessment phase of the route to discuss the project and raise objections to it. “The Corps has documented dozens of attempts it made to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2016 on the permitted DAPL activities, Boasberg wrote. “These included at least three site visits to the Lake Oahe crossing to assess any potential effect on historic properties.”
The judge further said that Dakota Access employed professional archeologists to perform early pipeline surveys across the entire route. These surveys identified 149 potential sites of cultural relevance and pipeline planners rerouted the route 140 times “to avoid potential cultural resources.” He also credited Dakota Access with planning the Lake Oahe construction close to an existing pipeline currently running under the lake to mitigate land impact.
The judge’s statement concluded that the injunction the tribe requested would not stop construction of the pipeline and would not effectively prevent harm to Standing Rock cultural sites. This is due to the fact that the project is halfway completed and most of its route runs through private lands that are not subject to federal law or permitting.
The US Army Corps of Engineers issues permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 for water body crossings, which regulates the construction in or over navigable waters. The Corps must also meet the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act and Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act before issuing permits.
Pipeline Politics, Not Rule of Law
Calling the Dakota Access pipeline a “possible sequel to the Keystone XL” pipeline fiasco, CNN reported that “about 30 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, signed a letter to President Barack Obama, slamming the pipeline as ‘yet another example of an oil pipeline project being permitted without public engagement or sufficient environmental review’.”
Part of Global Environmental Movement
One of the anti-fossil fuel groups, 350.org, sent out an email Monday afternoon to rally protesters in 35 cities around the globe for “this huge moment of resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. … We must make it clear that President Obama must stop it once and for all.” The website tells viewers the pipeline “would carry toxic fracked oil from North Dakota across four states and under the Missouri River,” and the group calls tomorrow’s global protests “one of the most courageous stands against a fossil fuel project this country has ever seen.”