After years of protest and legal battles, a district court ruled on Monday to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil route stretching from North Dakota to Illinois. The contentiously built pipeline must be completely drained of oil by August 5, in order to conduct further reviews of its environmental impact. The news also stands as a big victory for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” said Mike Faith, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
The ruling comes after presiding U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ordered a more extensive review of the pipeline than the initial report conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leaving open the possibility that the pipeline could be shuttered during the new assessment, reports the Associated Press.
In March 2020, an environmental review of the pipeline conducted by the federal government found that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial.” Additionally, the review found that the federal government had not done enough to study the risks of a major spill including whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate. This week’s ruling was a continuation of those efforts.
“Given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) 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,” Boasberg wrote in a statement released Monday.
Energy Transfer, the Texas company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline, broke ground on the 1,172-mile project in 2016. It transports oil by crossing beneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Indian reservation, where the tribe gets their drinking water.
Fearing pollution, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with three other Sioux Tribes in the Dakotas sued the Federal District Court in Washington to stop construction. Early efforts under the Obama administration were successful and the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would seek alternative routes that did not jeopardize the safety access to drinking water.
This changed four days after President Trump took office in 2017 when he signed an executive memorandum requesting that the corps “review and approve” the pipeline “in an expedited manner.” By June 2017, oil was flowing through the pipeline. According to a report from The Guardian in 2016, Trump’s financial disclosure forms show he invested in Energy Transfer Partners and received more than $100,000 in campaign donations from its CEO, Kelcy Warren. The close ties continue. Last month, Warren held a fundraiser for Trump in his home and former energy secretary Rick Perry rejoined Energy Transfer’s board months after stepping down from a cabinet position.
Energy Transfer released a statement on Monday saying that it would file a motion to overturn the decision, appealing to a higher court if necessary. “We will be immediately pursuing all available legal and administrative processes and are confident that once the law and full record are fully considered, Dakota Access Pipeline will not be shut down and that oil will continue to flow,” reads the statement.
“The bottom line of all this is that the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) will probably tell us that they should have used a different route in the first place that did not affect Sioux Nation treaty rights,” Faith told the Bismarck Tribune. Even after initial protests citing the serious risks posed by the pipeline, demonstrations carried on for years leading to clashes with law enforcement and mass arrests.
Provided the ruling stands, and oil flow is halted, the pipeline could resume operations pending the results of the Army Corps of Engineers' environmental review; however, this study will not be short. “The shutdown will remain in place pending completion of a full environmental review, which normally takes several years, and the issuance of new permits,” Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law organization that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement on Monday. “It may be up to a new administration to make final permitting decisions.”