BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge kept in place Monday a previous work-stoppage order on a small portion of the nearly 1,200-mile (1931 km) Dakota Access oil pipeline while federal agencies review construction permits for the site, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is sacred ground.
But much has yet to be settled when it comes to the pipeline that'll run from North Dakota to Illinois, including whether the company will respond to the federal agencies' request for a voluntary, broader work stoppage in that area.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners obtained federal permits for the $3.8 billion pipeline in July, two years after it was first announced.
The project would carry a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from western North Dakota's oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.
Supporters say the pipeline would create more markets and reduce truck and oil train traffic.
But the Standing Rock Sioux, other tribes and environmental groups say that the pipeline could threaten water supplies for millions, since it will cross the Missouri River, as well as harm sacred sites and artifacts.
Since April, there's been a tribal protest at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers and it has grown considerably — thousands gathered last week. Nearly 40 have been arrested as the protest has grown in size, including Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued federal regulators for approving the oil pipeline, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings and arguing that the pipeline would be placed less than a mile upstream of the reservation, potentially impacting drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions of people who rely on it further downstream.
The lawsuit said the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act. The tribe also worries the project will disturb ancient sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million acre reservation.
Energy Transfer Partners disputes those claims, saying the pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close valves within three minutes if a breach is detected.
THE LEGAL PROCESS
The Standing Rock Sioux's effort to temporarily block construction near its reservation on the North Dakota-South Dakota border was denied by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Friday.
But minutes later, federal officials ordered a temporary halt to construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land around and underneath Lake Oahe — one of six reservoirs on the Missouri River. It also asked for a "voluntary pause" of work by Energy Transfer Partners for 20 miles (32 km) on either side of Lake Oahe, to which ETP has not indicated its position, though it noted in an email that work was ongoing elsewhere in the other four states.
Boasberg declined Monday to grant the tribe's request to "formalize" the government's desired work stoppage, but kept in place an earlier order to halt construction from State Highway 1806 to 20 miles (32 km) east of Lake Oahe.
WHAT'S THE TIMETABLE?
No one — neither the company, nor the tribe, nor federal agencies — has said.
The Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior said Friday that it won't authorize construction on corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it re-examines its permitting decision-making process.
A Dakota Access lawyer said in federal court last week that the portion of the pipeline in North Dakota that's the subject of the legal wrangling would be finished shortly if not for the delays. ETP has said it expects to complete the full pipeline by the end of the year.
The temporary policy victory hasn't dulled the number of people coming to the protest site, according to Standing Rock tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. She and others have said is largest gathering of American Indian tribes in a century.