The Army Corp of Engineers announced this afternoon that it will not grant an easement for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
Instead, the Army Corp of Engineers will study the environmental impact of rerouting the 1,172-mile pipeline, which is 87 percent complete. The current route would have run within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Tribal leaders and environmentalists are concerned that a rupture in the line would contaminate the reservation’s water.
Such pipeline breaches are rare but have caused massive damage.
Once complete, the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry 470,000 barrels of light crude oil per day from northwestern North Dakota to south-central Illinois.
In September, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, won a federal lawsuit granting it the right to complete the pipeline on its opposed path. But protesters who had begun blocking construction in August refused to disperse. They’ve built an encampment at the site that has attracted supportive people from all over the world, including celebrities and other high-profile personalities.
Las month, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess its original conclusion that the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing would not affect tribal members. An independent consultant hired by the tribe had found that the federal government’s environmental assessment of the pipeline’s impact was unsound.
In fact, Richard Kuprewicz of Accufacts, Inc., a consulting firm that advises government agencies and industry about pipelines, said an oil spill at Standing Rock would also impact an estimated 17 million people downstream from the river.
As reported today by The Associated Press, U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps’ “thoughtful approach … ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts.”
Jewell also said that the decision today “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”
Energy Transfer Partners has said in the past that it would not reroute the pipeline. Speculation is that the company will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office and then go forward with its original plans. During his campaign, Trump promised to get rid of government “red tape” and federal regulations that stall energy projects due to their environmental impact.
Federal financial disclosures filed in May showed that Trump owns interest in the pipeline and that Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated $3,000 to Trump’s campaign, plus $100,000 to a committee supporting Trump’s candidacy. Warren also donated $66,800 to the Republican National Committee.
Although the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route still hangs in the balance, Archambault said in a statement today that “with this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well.”
The epic, months-long standoff between law enforcement and pipeline protesters has escalated recently at the main protest site, Oceti Sakowin Camp. Hundreds of veterans traveled to the encampment last week to protect the protesters, who have been ordered to disperse on Monday.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Friday in a videotaped statement that she was dispatching federal mediators to ensure the ongoing standoff did not erupt into violence.
But the Army’s announcement today appears to have eased tensions, at least for the time being.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” Archambault said.
Native American protesters on Monday occupied privately owned land in North Dakota in the path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, claiming they were the land’s rightful owners under an 1851 treaty with the U.S. government.
The move is significant because the company building the 1,100-mile (1,886-km) oil pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, has bought tracts of land and relied on eminent domain to clear a route for the line across four states from North Dakota to Illinois.
Video posted on social media showed police officers using pepper spray to try to disperse dozens of protesters, who chanted, beat drums and set up a makeshift camp near the town of Cannon Ball in southern North Dakota, where the $3.8 billion pipeline would be buried underneath the Missouri River.
The area is near the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. It was not immediately known who owns the occupied land.
In September, the U.S. government halted construction on part of the line.
The Standing Rock Sioux and environmental activists have said further construction would damage historical tribal sacred sites and spills would foul drinking water.
Since then, opponents have pressured the government to reroute construction. The current route runs within half a mile of the reservation.
Protesters on Monday said the land in question was theirs under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which was signed by eight tribes and the U.S. government. Over the last century, tribes have challenged this treaty and others like it in court for not being honored or for taking their land.
“We have never ceded this land. If Dakota Access Pipeline can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland,” Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a prepared statement.
Energy Transfer could not be reached for comment.
Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. said the proposed route should be changed.
“The best way to resolve this is to reroute this pipeline and for the (Obama) administration to not give an easement to build it near our sacred land,” Archambault said in an interview.
In filings with federal regulators, the company said at one point it considered running the line far north of the reservation and close to Bismarck, the state capital.