US court orders Dakota Access oil pipeline to be emptied, shut | News | DW | 06.07.2020
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US court orders Dakota Access oil pipeline to be emptied, shut

A judge ruled that the pipeline must be drained within 30 days pending an environmental assessment. The ruling marks a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which said the pipeline threatened its clean water.

A US District Court on Monday sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ordered the Dakota Access pipeline to shut down until an additional environmental assessment is complete.

The court ordered Energy Transfer LP to shut and empty the pipeline — the largest stemming from the North Dakota shale oil fields — within 30 days, in a big win for the Native American tribes who have contested the line's route across a crucial water supply. 

Read more:  Pipeline wars: Front line in the fight against climate change

In a 24-page order, US District Judge James Boasberg wrote that he was "mindful of the disruption" that shutting down a pipeline that has been in operation for three years would cause, but that it must be done within the prescribed period. His order followed comments that he made in April, that the pipeline remained "highly controversial," under federal environmental law, and that a more extensive review was necessary than the original assessment. 

The ruling stated that the US Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it granted an easement to Energy Transfer to construct and operate a segment of the pipeline, because they failed to produce an adequate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) despite a requirement for it. The decision rested with the Army Corps of Engineers because small segments of the pipeline crosses land it owns.

"Clear precedent favoring vacatur during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps' deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the thirteen months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take," Boasberg wrote in his ruling. 

"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," the US District Court for the District of Columbia said in the ruling.

Law enforcement officers advance into the main opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., February 23, 2017. (Reuters/T. Sylvester)

Major protests at the site were ultimately cleared by law enforcement in 2017

Read more (from 2018):  Dakota pipeline protesters 'won't be evicted'

'A historic day'

"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 Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning."

The pipeline was the focus of months of protests during its construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation along the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The $3.8-billion (€3.4 billion) pipeline runs 1,172 miles (1,886 kilometers) underground and crosses beneath the Missouri River, which is a source of drinking water for the Standing Rock reservation. Activists feared that the pipeline would pollute that source in the case of an oil spill.

Read more:  Canada's oil pipeline: Workers anxious for their future

The Standing Rock tribe has also pressed litigation against the operators of the pipeline, which carries 570,000 barrels per day. 

Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock tribe, tweeted that the ruling was "stunning."

The result is also a blow to the Trump administration, which has pushed to accelerate the pipeline's construction. The company last year proposed doubling the capacity to as many as 1.1 million barrels per day, to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, without the needs for additional pipelines or rail shipments. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, daily oil production in North Dakota was at a near-record 1.45 million barrels per day. 

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lc/msh (AP, Reuters)

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