By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge ordered Energy Transfer Partners LP to coordinate with local tribes and the Army Corps of Engineers to create an oil-spill response plan for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by next April, a decision he said will allow oil to keep flowing and prevent spills.
The order on Monday by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg came nearly six months after he ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers review of the project, which transports oil from North Dakota near Native American reservations to Illinois, was inadequate before it granted federal permits.
In October the judge ruled that crude oil can continue to flow through the 1,170-mile (1,900-km) North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline while the review is conducted. It has shipped crude since June.
The order met the requests of the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes to get an independent, third-party auditor to share data obtained during the review. The order must be implemented by April 1.
“While we think that the pipeline should have been shut down, we are gratified that the federal court has put measures in place to reduce risks and provide some independent oversight to reduce the risk of a spill from this project," said Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith.
Boasberg also asked Energy Transfer Partners for other interim measures on Monday. He asked the company to begin submitting bi-monthly reports later this month on safety conditions at the Lake Oahe pipeline crossing, the center of months of anti-pipeline protests last year.
In his ruling Boasberg cited concerns about oil spills raised by last month's 5,000-barrel spill at the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota, near the boundaries of tribal lands, as a reason for independent monitoring of Dakota Access.
"Although the Court is not suggesting that a similar leak is imminent at Lake Oahe, the fact remains that there is an inherent risk with any pipeline," Boasberg wrote in his eight-page order.
The Native Indian tribes have said the pipeline would desecrate sacred grounds and a spill could contaminate drinking water.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)