In a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the U.S. Army Corps announced Monday that it won’t grant an easement to allow completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline while it looks further into concerns raised by the tribe.
The Corps announced it would set a timeline with the tribe for further consideration of its concerns, including the risk of spills into the Missouri River, the drinking-water source for the tribe and more than 17 million people downstream.
Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas, has completed the more than 1,100-mile oil pipeline through four states but for the last stage: drilling under the river to finish the pipeline. For that, it needs the easement to cross Corps land.
The Corps set a review schedule “that allows for robust discussion and analysis to be completed expeditiously.”
The tribe has adamantly opposed the pipeline, to protect drinking water and sacred sites in its ancestral lands. Hundreds of people have been camped near the proposed crossing since April to oppose the pipeline and support the tribe.
Washington state tribes, also fighting fossil-fuel projects, have joined in the struggle, traveling to the camps and taking donations.
Energy Transfer Partners could not be reached for comment Monday. The company stated on Election Day that it expected the pipeline to be quickly approved and that it expected the easement to be in hand as soon as Monday. The announcement was a setback to those expectations.
Do we think they will try to undo any positive decision from the Obama administration? Yes, we expect they will. And we will see them in court.
Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice in Seattle, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux.
In a statement Friday, the company said it believes it already has the permission it needs to complete the project, as part of earlier permits. Any grounds given by the Corps for further review “reek of political interference,” the company stated.
If the Corps eventually denies the easement, it won’t be a simple matter of President-elect Donald Trump – an investor in the pipeline project – later granting it, said Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice in Seattle, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux.
“Do we think they will try to undo any positive decision from the Obama administration? Yes, we expect they will. And we will see them in court,” Hasselman said.
The tribe already has sued to block the project in federal court, declaring risks to the environment were overlooked in the fast-track, piecemeal review of the project. That suit is pending.
The tribe also has demanded an investigation into alleged destruction of sacred sites by the developer within the pipeline easement the day after the tribe recorded the existence of those sites in court documents.
“The facts are undisputed and well established that here were sites in the right of way that were destroyed,” Hasselman said.
Federal law prohibits issuance of a permit if a developer intentionally destroys protected sites.
Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in a prepared statement Monday said the decision was cause for hope. “It is clear President Obama is listening,” Archambault said. “Together we can inspire people across America and the globe to honor each other and the Earth we hold sacred … not all of our prayers were answered, but this time, they were heard.”
The pipeline was initially routed north of the capital city of Bismarck, Archambault noted, but rerouted by the company, in part, because of concerns to protect drinking-water intakes. The company’s proposed route now crosses within a half mile of the tribe’s reservation boundary and 10 miles upstream of its drinking-water intake.
The tribe’s cause has been taken up by thousands of people and hundreds of tribes, climate activists, environmentalists and supporters of tribal treaty rights around the globe.
In response, the state of North Dakota and Morton County Sheriff’s Department have met opponents demonstrating against the pipeline with a police force drawn from eight states, and a response including tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs, pepper spray and more than 460 arrests.
Still, the demonstrations continue. More than 500 people converged on the state capitol Monday to protest the pipeline, the North Dakota Highway Patrol reported.
The patrol’s official seal is an Indian in profile, wearing a war bonnet.