March 16, 2017
A federal judge has denied a last-minute plea to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, allowing the $3.8 billion oil pipeline to begin operating as early as next week.
U.S. District Judge James A. Boasberg ruled Tuesday that the Cheyenne River Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux are unlikely to prevail on the merits of their challenge to his March 7 decision, saying the court “believes that Plaintiff does not have a strong case on appeal.”
A status report filed Monday by Dakota Access LLC said oil is expected to start flowing through the North Dakota section of the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline sometime from Monday through Wednesday, “depending upon the success of the testing.”
Another status report is expected to be filed with the court on Monday.
The tribes had asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the pipeline on religious grounds, arguing that flowing oil underneath Lake Oahe would desecrate the water, which is sacred to the tribes, and fulfill the “black snake prophecy.”
Last week, however, the judge pointed out that a natural gas pipeline already runs under Lake Oahe and that other oil pipelines cross the Missouri River upstream from the lake, which is man-made and only 60 years old.
“As to the remaining factors, the Court acknowledges that the Tribe is likely to suffer irreparable harm to its members’ religious exercise if oil is introduced into the pipeline, but Dakota Access would also be substantially harmed by an injunction, given the financial and logistical injuries that would ensue,” Judge Boasberg said in his Tuesday opinion.
The tribes have filed a lawsuit arguing that the Trump administration erred by cutting short an environmental impact statement ordered in December by the Obama administration, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said the project underwent the required environmental reviews as part of a two-year assessment.
The Dakota Access pipeline, which would flow oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota to storage and shipping facilities in Patoka, Illinois, runs almost entirely on private land but about a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
“Granting equitable relief in the form of an injunction now would only reward the Tribe’s unwillingness to engage meaningfully in the consultation process,” the Army Corps said in a brief Tuesday. “Contrary to Cheyenne River’s assertion, such relief would cause harm to the Corps’ future administrative processes. Moreover, the President has expressly determined that the Pipeline is ‘in the national interest.’”
After approving an easement for the final stretch of the pipeline in July, the Obama administration delayed and then reversed its decision pending an additional environmental review in the face of pressure from thousands of protesters camped out near the construction site at Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The pipeline is owned by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.