Review Ordered for Dakota Access Pipeline
Last week, a federal judge ordered the United States Army Corps of Engineers to perform a new, full environmental review on the Dakota Access pipeline.
The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, who reports that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial” and that the Corps had not previously performed an adequate job in studying the risks or the infrastructure’s leak detection system.
About the Project
In 2016, Energy Transfer Partners—a partnership made up of a number of subsidiaries and owns Sunoco Logistics— broke ground on the construction of a 1,168-mile underground pipeline. Intended to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, the project has seen many postponements, orders, reviews and criticism.
Not long after construction began, the project hit a temporary delay when Sioux leaders suggested part of the pipeline route crossed through ancient burial lands. Iowa officials halted work in late May, but the state’s archaeologist said that the underground boring would not pose a significant disruption, and construction was back on by late June.
Court orders full environmental review of Dakota Access Pipeline | Bakken News | https://t.co/pryDVWg64z https://t.co/QBteodGhBq— Honor the Earth (@HonorTheEarth) March 31, 2020
In December, the project was stalled again after a decision from the Army Corps of Engineers relayed that it would not allow an easement for construction of the 30-inch pipeline underneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.
However, by February 2017, the Corps announced that it would approve an easement. The new approval arrived two weeks after President Donald J. Trump issued a series of memoranda, one of which specifically asked the Corps to expedite a review of the easement ruling.
According to the Associated Press, the Corps concluded that no significant environmental issues plagued the pipeline project in regard to running it underneath the Missouri River.
Also included among the memos was an invitation for TransCanada to re-submit its plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, which was rejected in 2015 by the Obama administration. Another memo called for new pipelines being built in the U.S. to be made of American materials as much as possible.
According to Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline was being constructed of “heavy-walled steel pipe that is nearly 50% thicker than required by law,” will be monitored remotely at all times, and will be regularly patrolled and inspected by air to ensure safety.
The same month the pipeline began operations in June 2017, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that the federal government did not adequately consider the pipeline’s impacts when it ruled earlier that year that the project could go forward. As a result, Boasberg said, the Corps would have to conduct a new environmental review—although, the pipeline could remain in service.
The judge’s ruling came as part of a suit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux, who argued that the pipeline threatens the safety and quality of their drinking water. In revisiting the matter, the opinion of the Corps made earlier that year, was again validated.
Despite previous environmental concerns and protests, last month, North Dakota’s Public Service Commission issued a vote favoring the expansion of the pipeline which will double its capacity to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. However, the proposal still needs additional permits and could face various legal challenges.
What’s Happening Now
As reported in the New York Times, Boasberg has ordered the Corps to conduct a more detailed review, showing how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Sioux Tribe’s fishing and hunting rights; whether the project might disproportionately affect tribes and other at-risk, low-income communities; and whether the pipeline’s effects on the environment would be “highly controversial.”
“The many commenters in this case pointed to serious gaps in crucial parts of the Corps' analysis—to name a few, that the pipeline's leak-detection system was unlikely to work, that it was not designed to catch slow spills, that the operator's serious history of incidents had not been taken into account, that that the worst-case scenario used by the Corps was potentially only a fraction of what a realistic figure would be—and the Corps was not able to fill any of [the gaps in the analysis],” Boasberg said in a statement.
As a result of the ruling, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said, "It's humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”
However, although the ordered is viewed by many as a win for the health and safety of Native American tribes and various environmental groups, others in the industry are concerned.
“Not only does this decision risk one company's investment, but it could also jeopardize our nation's economic and energy security moving forward,” GAIN Coalition spokesperson Craig Stevens stated.
The new environmental review is expected to take one to two years to complete and it is unknown if the pipeline will be shut down during this time. Both Energy Transfer Partners and the Corps have declined to comment to any reporting agencies on the matter.