Federal judge allows construction to continue on Dakota Access pipeline
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, a federal judge rejected a request by two Native American tribes. They had asked for an emergency order halting construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
The Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes are suing to stop the project. At Monday's hearing, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said that as long as the oil isn't flowing through the pipeline, there is no immediate harm to the tribes. He said he would reconsider the arguments more thoroughly at another hearing on February 27.
The tribes requested the emergency order last week. They did so after the company Energy Transfer Partners got permission to lay pipe under a reservoir in North Dakota. It's the last big section of the $3.8 billion pipeline that would need to be constructed before it could carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois.
A Threat To Cultural Sites And Water Source
The tribes say the pipeline would threaten their cultural sites and water supply. They also say it would threaten their religious freedom. In a new argument added to their legal case last week, the tribes claim that clean water is necessary to practice the Sioux religion. The mere presence of the pipeline, they argue, renders the water impure.
At the hearing, though, Boasberg disagreed. He said the harm to the tribe apparently would come from the pipeline being turned on and the oil flowing through it, not from the pipeline's mere presence.
Energy Transfer Partners received final approval from the Army last week. The company now has permission to complete the 1,200-mile pipeline, which would move North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois. Drilling work began immediately under Lake Oahe, which is the water source for both tribes.
The company's lawyers filed court documents early Monday urging Boasberg to reject the tribes' request. They called the new religious freedom argument a "last-minute delay tactic."
"Dakota Access has the greatest respect for the religious beliefs and traditions of (tribes). The emergency relief sought here simply is not necessary to protect the exercise of those beliefs," a lawyer for the company wrote.
Army Corps Says To Worry About The Oil, Not The Pipeline
The Army Corps also filed court documents arguing that there is no need to halt work on the project. The tribes will have plenty of time to make their case before oil flows through the pipeline, the Corps said.
Work under Lake Oahe had been held up in the courts for some time. That came to an end last month, when President Donald Trump instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to continue construction. The Army is involved because its engineering branch manages the river. It also manages the river's system of hydroelectric dams, which is owned by the federal government.
The drilling work is expected to take about two months. The full pipeline system could be running within three months.
Protests Forced Halt To Construction At The End Of Last Year
Energy Transfer Partners says that the pipeline is safe and disputes that cultural sites have been affected. But a protest camp near the construction in North Dakota drew thousands of protesters last year in support of the tribes. The protests led to occasional clashes with police and nearly 700 arrests. Although the camp is smaller now, police continue to maintain a presence in the area.