DEVELOPING STORY: Court orders a shut down and removal of oil from the Dakota Access Pipeline

Photo: Amy Sisk/Inside Energy

Order says Dakota Access assumed much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates.

Indian Country Today, July 6, 2020

A federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down and remove all oil within 30 days, a huge win for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and the other plaintiffs.

“Following multiple twists and turns in this long-running litigation, this Court recently found that Defendant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted an easement to Defendant-Intervenor Dakota Access, LLC to construct and operate a segment of that crude-oil pipeline running beneath the lake,” said the opinion from U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.

The pipeline extends more than 1,000 miles from North Dakota to Illinois – but the issue is the portion of the project that is buried under the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe said a leak will contaminate their drinking water and sacred lands.

Late in the Obama administration the Corps of Army Engineers announced it would suspend approval of the project while an Environmental Impact Statement was prepared. “A few months later, however, following the change of administration in January 2017 and a presidential memorandum urging acceleration of the project, the Corps again reconsidered and decided to move forward,” the opinion said. “It granted the sought permit, construction was completed, and oil commenced flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline. “

This the court found was a substantial error and a violation of the National Environmental Environmental Policy Act.

The bottom line: “The Corps had not been able to substantiate its decision to publish” only an Environmental Assessment and not an Environmental Impact Statement.

“Dakota Access’s central and strongest argument … is that shutting down the pipeline would cause it, and the industries that rely on it, significant economic harm, including substantial job losses,” the court said.

The pipeline company said it could lose $643 million in the second half of 2020 and $1.4 billion in 2021 if shut down. The court said: “All of these financial losses would be absorbed by the owners of Dakota Access,” particularly Energy Transfer Partners, the current parent company of DAPL after a merger with Sunoco.”

But Boasberg’s ruling is clear on that point. “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.”

This story is developing and will be updated.

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