By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Oil can keep flowing through the contested Dakota Access Pipeline while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a new environmental review of the duct through next April, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled the court would not void a permit that has allowed the pipeline since May to transport crude oil on Energy Transfer Partners LP's $3.8 billion pipeline in North Dakota.
In June, Boasberg ordered the Army Corps to do further environmental reviews of the pipeline, saying it failed to adequately consider any harm of a potential oil spill to the fishing and hunting rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
That pushed the Standing Rock tribe in August to urge the court to immediately shut the line, saying its members were exposed to the very risks that the Army Corps was studying.
Dakota Access has become a flashpoint in President Donald Trump's policy to make the United States "energy dominant" by maximizing the production of fossil fuels for domestic use and for shipping to allies. The pipeline is opposed by environmentalists and the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes.
Standing Rock has sued the Army Corps over its approval of the pipeline, arguing the line could contaminate its water source, the Missouri River.
Boasberg wrote in the ruling that complying with environmental review laws "cannot be reduced to a bureaucratic formality" and that he expected the Army Corps not to treat the further reviews as simply filling out paperwork.
But voiding the permit allowing the pipeline to ship oil would not be the "appropriate remedy" because there was a possibility the Army Corps will be able to show in the new environmental review that a potential spill would not harm the tribe's rights.
If the tribe is still not happy after the environmental review is completed, it will have an opportunity to address whether the Army Corps fulfilled its duties, Boasberg wrote.
Representatives for Standing Rock did not immediately comment on the ruling.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney)