The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers announced Sunday that it will consider rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) around Lake Oahe in south-central North Dakota, rejecting the easement of land in question to parent company Energy Transfer Partners.
Construction is already complete on nearly 75 percent of the pipeline which will run 1,172 miles from production fields in northwest North Dakota to holding stations in south-central Illinois, carrying approximately 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Protest demonstrations against the pipeline builder began in August and grew throughout the fall as ancient Indian burial grounds on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation, close to Lake Oahe, came under threat.
The lake also serves as a source of local drinking water and a reservoir along the Missouri River, which flows from western Montana to the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis.
Despite a judicial ruling that allowed DAPL construction to proceed in October, the Obama administration, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers issued a partial and temporary stop-work order immediately afterward.
In a statement Sunday, U.S. Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said: “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do. “
Darcy went on to say that “the best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternative routes for the pipeline’s crossing,” which could be pursued most effectively through an Environmental Impact Statement, “with full public input and analysis.”
Reaction from pipeline supporters was harsh, defiant and critical of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to let construction proceed without review of environmental concerns.
A joint statement by builders Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners said they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”
North Dakota’s lone representative in the U.S. House, Republican Kevin Cramer, was particularly critical of the current White House.
“I hoped even a lawless president wouldn’t continue to ignore the rule of law,” he said in a statement. “Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country.”
The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a business, agriculture and labor coalition, also issued a statement: “President Obama’s decision not to issue the final easement is a rejection of the entire regulatory and judicial system, as well as the scores of Army Corps of Engineers and civil servants who toiled for more than 800 days to ensure the process was followed correctly, in accordance with the law.”
Despite the sharp rhetoric, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled disagreement with the current administration over the pipeline project and will likely allow construction to proceed upon taking office in late-January.
An attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law non-profit group, however, said that his organization will challenge the Trump administration in court if they try to “jam the pipeline through despite the need for an analysis of alternatives”.
[CNN] [Politico] [RT America] [Photo courtesy James Macpherson/AP via CNN]