Judge’s order shuts down Dakota Access pipeline pending review

Map showing the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

In a major victory for environmentalists and Native American tribes, a federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and drained pending a new review of its impact on surrounding land and water.

The ruling comes three years after crude oil began flowing through the pipeline that extends almost 1,200 miles from North Dakota, across Iowa, and into Illinois.

In March, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg had called on lawyers for the pipeline’s owner, Energy Transfer of Texas, to file briefs arguing why the pipeline should be allowed to remain operational despite the need for additional, court-ordered environmental reviews.

Monday’s ruling shuts down the pipeline pending the completion of those reviews, which the Trump administration had hoped to avoid.

In a written statement, Chairman Mike Faith of the  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has fought the pipeline for years, called the ruling “historic” and said the pipeline “should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had approved its construction, referred all questions about the ruling to the Justice Department, the Associated Press reported.

The legal battle centers on the segment of the pipeline that runs under the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation is immediately downstream of the pipeline and members of the tribe have protested the pipeline’s constriction due to the potential contamination of their soil and drinking water.

In his 24-page order, Boasberg said that while he was “mindful of the disruption” that shutting down the pipeline would cause, the task must be completed within 30 days. He noted the Corps had approved the pipeline despite the lack of necessary environmental reviews, and said “the  seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow” for the 13 months the review is likely to take.

Boasberg wrote that while he “readily acknowledges” that shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to the North Dakota oil industry and potentially other states, “Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly.” He wrote that due to “the potential harm each day the pipeline operates,  the court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease.”

Energy Transfer has said the $3.8 billion pipeline is safe for the environment and has proposed doubling its capacity 1.1 million barrels per day. In January, the Iowa Utilities Board asked Energy Transfer to provide expert analysis “of whether the increased flow will increase the amount of oil that will be released if a spill occurs.”

The Obama administration had originally rejected permits for the project, but in February 2017, one month after Trump took office, the Corps scrapped plans for an environmental review and granted permits for construction to proceed.

A few months later, Boasberg ruled that the Corps had not considered the impact that an oil spill would have on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s hunting and fishing.

 

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.