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Judge Blocks Dakota Access Pipeline, Cutting Off Energy and Revenue

(Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

A district judge ordered yesterday that Energy Transfer company discontinue its use of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) until a more extensive review of environmental hazards can be performed on the pipeline. Energy Transfer has 30 days to empty the pipeline of oil.

“We will be immediately pursuing all available legal and administrative processes” to restore the pipeline, Energy Transfer said in a statement.

According to Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, “… it will not only hurt the oil industry, but the tens of thousands of people that work in North Dakota's oil industry run and operate these types of facilities.”

Operational since 2017, the DAPL transports approximately 570,000 barrels of oil per day between the Bakken formation and the distribution site in Patoka, Illinois. 

“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect,” Judge Boasberg, an Obama appointee, wrote in his opinion

He acknowledged the significant economic damage that shutting down the pipeline would inflict on South Dakota’s oil industry and nearby states but claimed that "Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly." Given the "the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease,” he said.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued in 2016 when the Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline’s construction, arguing that the pipeline’s proximity to bodies of water would cause pollution and negatively impact the tribe. The Corps announced it would reroute the pipeline around Native American land, but when Trump took office in 2017 he issued an executive memorandum instructing the corps to continue with the originals plans. Protests in 2017 generated massive fires but failed to effectively suppress the pipe’s construction.

In January, Trump narrowed the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act that regulated commercial infrastructure. Then in February, North Dakota officials approved a measure to expand the DAPL, claiming that it would have “minimal adverse effects on the environment and the citizens of North Dakota.”

Judge Boasberg ordered the Corps to conduct a more extensive review on the pipeline in March. Opponents of the pipeline, backed by Senate Democrats, argued that it should be closed during the duration of the 13-month review.

“The Court will nonetheless require the oil to stop flowing and the pipeline to be emptied within 30 days from the date of this Opinion and accompanying Order. This time period was proposed by the Tribes and should provide sufficient time for the pipeline to be shut down in a safe and efficient manner, which is undoubtedly in everyone’s interest,” wrote Judge Boasberg.

“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” Mike Faith, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”

“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the Tribe.

Earlier this week, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy suspended construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline amid political opposition, coronavirus delays and increasing costs.

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