It was go, then stop, for the Dakota Access Pipeline on Friday.
First, a federal judge rejected the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to stop construction of the crude oil pipeline that would run from North Dakota to Illinois, saying the tribe failed to show “it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the court could issue.”
But later in the day, the Army and US Justice and Interior departments jointly announced they would stop — at least temporarily — pipeline work under a lake the tribe considers a crucial water source.
They asked the pipeline company to voluntarily halt construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe while the Army reconsiders the decision to proceed under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws.
It was unclear if the pipeline’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, would perform work on other sections of the pipeline or comply with the government’s request. The company declined comment Friday.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was ecstatic.
“Our voices have been heard,” said tribal council chairman Dave Archambault. “The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.”
Archambault told CNN affiliate KFYR the tribe will appeal the judge’s ruling.
The competing decisions may calm emotions at the proposed pipeline site. Protests turned violent last weekend and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple had activated the state National Guard for the weekend.
Big economic impact
The 1,172-mile pipeline would stretch from the oil-rich Bakken Formation — a vast underground deposit where Montana and North Dakota meet Canada — southeast into South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
After the pipeline is completed, it would shuttle 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Energy Access Partners said. From Illinois, the oil could go to markets and refineries across the Midwest, East Coast and Gulf Coast.
Energy Transfer said the pipeline would bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments. It would also add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs, the developer said.
One for the company
The plaintiffs claim the tribe was not properly consulted before the US Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline project.
The tribe said burial grounds and other sacred sites would be destroyed by the pipeline.
The tribe filed an emergency motion Sunday asking the court “to prevent further destruction of the tribe’s sacred sites.”
In denying the tribe’s request for a temporary restraining order, US District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote Friday that the court “does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance to the Standing Rock Sioux” and that it “scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care.”
“Having done so, the Court must nonetheless conclude that the Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here,” the decision said.
The judge wrote that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “gave the Tribe a reasonable and good-faith opportunity to identify sites of importance to it.”
Company asked to stop work
But the tribe received good news a brief time later.
In a joint statement, the US Justice and Interior Departments and the Army acknowledged “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations.” They asked the pipeline company to voluntarily halt construction while the Army reconsiders the decision to proceed under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws.
“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” the joint statement said. “Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.”
The Corps of Engineers has declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Thousands of people from more than 200 Native American tribes have supported the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to protect its lands, waters and sacred sites during construction of the pipeline, according to the tribe.
About 30 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, have slammed the project, calling it “yet another example of an oil pipeline project being permitted without public engagement or sufficient environmental review.”‘
Protesters are also worried that digging the pipeline under the Missouri River could affect the drinking water supply if the pipeline breaks.
Protests became violent last weekend.
“Protesters physically assaulted private security officers hired by Dakota Access Pipeline. The security officers were hit and jabbed with fence posts and flagpoles,” the sheriff’s department said. “According to several reports from security officers, knives were pulled on them or they witnessed protestors with large knives.”
The sheriff’s department said two guard dogs were injured.
But protesters disputed that account, KFYR reported. Demonstrators said the guards used pepper spray and tear gas on the activists, and some protesters were injured by the guards’ dogs.