Work on Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access pipeline will be temporarily stopped while an appeals court considers an emergency request by a Native American group claiming the project could destroy or damage sacred land.
Completion of the project stalled because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week it won’t allow construction on federal land near Lake Oahe in North Dakota and South Dakota while it considers permits for that part project. The Corps announced the halt shortly after a federal judge rejected the tribe’s objections and let the project the go-ahead.
Friday’s order by a Washington federal appeals court stops construction within 20 miles of the lake while the court considers whether to order a longer delay.
The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile conduit is intended to convey light sweet crude from the Bakken formation in northwestern North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. Energy Transfer owns the project with Phillips 66 Co. and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP. A joint venture between Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge Energy Partners LP, announced in August, would also take a minority stake in the pipeline.
The Dakota Access dispute is cresting 10 months after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada Corp.’s plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, which had faced opposition in Nebraska. ETP’s project skirts that state, proceeding diagonally across South Dakota and Iowa before reaching Illinois. The outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election could alter the fate of both pipelines.
The Standing Rock Sioux sued the Army Corps in July, alleging the Dakota Access project threatened its “environmental and economic well-being and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance to the tribe.”
In denying the request to block the project, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said on Sept. 9. that Lake Oahe is of “undeniable importance” to the tribe. Still, he said, the tribe hadn’t shown the pipeline work would likely cause damage.
In papers filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals on Sept. 14, attorneys for the U.S. reiterated the Army Corps’s position that it wouldn’t authorize construction near Lake Oahe. While opposing the tribe’s request for a court-ordered halt, the government asked the consortium to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of the lake.
Lawyers for the consortium said the tribe had offered “no reason” to interrupt work on the pipeline, which they said is almost complete. They argued that “99.98 percent” of the pipeline’s route was through private land which doesn’t fall under federal jurisdiction.
The appeal case is Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 16-5259, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 16-cv-1534, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
By Andrew Harris.