Standing Rock, Indian Country, score big court victory against DAPL

From protest for sending Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies to Standing Rock.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has to shut down by Aug. 5 and the pipeline emptied of oil until the project’s environmental impact statement is finished and treaty rights and other environmental challenges are resolved, according to a court ruling today. According to the ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake [Lake Oahe]. Today they finally achieve that goal — at least for the time being.

Depending on the results of a pending environmental impact statement, DAPL could be forced to shut down permanently.

Energy Transfer, a leading partner in DAPL, criticized the ruling and vowed to challenge it. The company faces problems on second front, as oil firms are trying to back out of commitments they made to ship oil on a proposed DAPL expansion.

DAPL route map. Standing Rock (in yellow) straddles North and South Dakota. (Photo by NittyG, posted on Wikipedia.)

Indian Country Today called the ruling an “historic day.” The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association (GPTCA), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Congress of American Indians Fund (NCAI Fund) said “the ruling assures that treaty rights will get a full airing in a ‘full-fledged and well-documented environmental review process.'”

The mainstream news outlet Bloomberg Law called it “a stunning defeat for the Trump administration and the oil industry.”

Specifically, it’s a blow to North Dakota’s Bakken fracking fields, which already have been hard hit by the drop in gas prices. DAPL moves approximately 40 percent of the Bakken’s daily crude oil output. The court-ordered shutdown is expected to last roughly a year.

Earlier, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and other tribes successfully sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to force it to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) where the pipeline crosses under Lake Oahe. (The lake was formed by damming the Missouri River, and is adjacent to Standing Rock.)

The Army Corps had allowed DAPL to proceed without an EIS. The pipeline has been operating for three years.

The earlier Court ruling said the Army Corps had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to require an EIS. Specifically, the Court “found wanting the Corps’ analysis of: (1) whether the project’s effects were likely to be highly controversial; (2) the impact of an oil spill on the Tribe’s fishing and hunting rights under the Treaty of 1851; and (3) ‘whether,’ under a required environmental-justice analysis, ‘Standing Rock would be disproportionately harmed by a spill.’”

Standing Rock water protector’s camp, 2016.

Today’s ruling concerned whether or not the pipeline could continue pumping gas while the Army Corps completed the EIS, or whether it would have to shut down until the EIS concluded whether or not the project was safe and whether or not it violated treaty rights.

Today’s ruling said the court was “mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause,” but approved the shutdown, in part because of “the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies.”

Standing Rock opposes DAPL, arguing it “violates Article II of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which guarantees the ‘undisturbed use and occupation’ of reservation lands surrounding the proposed location of the pipeline,” according to Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. “In 2015 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, operating as a sovereign nation , passed a resolution regarding the pipeline stating that ‘the Dakota Access Pipeline poses a serious risk to the very survival of our Tribe and … would destroy valuable cultural resources.'”

In an additional blow to Energy Transfer, its proposal to nearly double DAPL’s capacity has hit big problems. Oil companies that had signed up to use the pipeline before the coronavirus, now want out, saying the expansion isn’t needed due to dropping gas prices. Enbridge is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent them, according to a Reuters article, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

In other pipeline news: Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. announced they are pulling the plug on the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline, “citing ongoing delays and concerns over the $8 billion project’s economic viability,” according to a story in E&E News.

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