Dakota Access pipeline blocked —for now

The US Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 4 issued a statement saying that Dakota Access LLC will not be granted the last remaining easement it needs to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe and complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The statement considers the possibility that the Army Corps will conduct a limited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the river crossing and explore possibilities for alternative routes. The decision comes as after weeks of protests at the crossing site, and as thousands of veterans are arriving from across the country to stand with the self-declared "water protectors" who face escalating repression at the hands of law enforcement.

However Dakota Access co-owners Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners responded with their own statement calling the decision "a purely political action." It noted that the government's court filing on the matter that same day stated that denial of the easement is a "policy decision." The statemen calls this "Washington code for a political decision." The statement also refers to the "Administration" rather than the Army Corps, reflecting the assumption that the decision came down from President Obama. 

The statement also seems to anticipate that the decision will be reversed by the incoming administration. It asserts that the corporations remain "fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way."

The partially constructed Dakota Access Pipeline would transport more than 470,000 barrels of oil per day over its 1,172-mile length through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Opposition to the project is connected with its proposed proximity to multiple large bodies of water that could become contaminated should the pipeline fail. Protesters have made camp at the site since early summer, led by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In November the ACLU reported that police at the site have used life-threatening weapons to control protesters. Earlier that month, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues released a statement expressing concerns that the US government is ignoring treaty rights, as well as human rights of Native Americans and their allies protest the pipeline.

Protesters pledged to maintain their encampement despite the decision. "Nothing indicates for us to pack up and go home," said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Our native people have reason to be distrustful." (Sacred Stone Camp, Jurist, Warrior Publications, Dec. 5; Warrior Publications, Dec. 4)