Court refuses to block Dakota Access as pipeline protests expand

By Patrick C. Miller | October 12, 2016

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Sunday announced that it had rejected the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s motion for an injunction to block construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Protesters and activists this week stepped up their efforts not only to halt construction on the 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion pipeline that will carry North Dakota crude to a terminal in Patoka, Illinois, but also to shut down pipelines transporting crude from Canadian tar sands through the northern U.S.

Following the court’s ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday asked Energy Transfer Partners—the Dallas-based company building the pipeline—to voluntarily halt construction 20 miles either side of the Lake Oahe reservoir where it crosses the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. At issue is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to build the pipeline under the river.

“The Army continues to review issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Tribal nations and their members and hopes to conclude its ongoing review soon,” according to a DOJ news release.

However, Energy Transfer Partners issued a statement saying that it “looks forward to a prompt resumption of construction activities east and west of Lake Oahe on private land.” The company did not say when construction along the Missouri would resume in North Dakota, but it believes “the Army Corps will soon issue the easement for approximately 1,100 feet necessary for the crossing beneath the Missouri River—the sole remaining authorization necessary for completion of the project.”

According to news media reports, by the end of September, the Dakota Access Pipeline was nearly 90 percent complete in North Dakota and mostly completed in South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The Obama administration said it intends to hold a series of meetings around the country with all 567 federally recognized tribes during October and November “to participate in formal, government-to-government consultations on how federal decision-making on infrastructure projects can better allow for timely and meaningful tribal input.”

Labor unions and industry organizations have criticized the administration’s position on the pipeline.

“We remain concerned that what’s happened with the administration is that it’s created a brand new process for review that doesn’t really seem to have an end,” said Brydon Ross with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA). “It’s not on any regulatory statute that I know of. The project’s in limbo based on the whims of activist groups.”

On Monday about 20 miles northwest of the pipeline opponents’ camps near the Missouri River crossing, 27 protesters and activists were arrested in what law enforcement officials characterized as a riot.

On Tuesday, saying they were acting in solidarity with the Sioux tribe and Dakota Access opponents, a group called “Shut It Down – Climate Direct Action” posted live video streams on Facebook showing activists breaking into oil pipeline facilities, using bolt cutters to remove locks and then closing emergency valves. The group said it was trying to stop the flow of Canadian crude from tar sands which it claims is contributing to climate change.

Two pipelines in Minnesota operated by Enbridge Inc. were targeted by the environmental group, causing the company to temporarily shut down the pipelines. Michael Barnes, Enbridge senior manager of operations and project communications, said Wednesday that the company has resumed normal operations.

Enbridge issued a statement calling the actions of the activists—which resulted in nine arrests—unlawful, dangerous and reckless.

“The groups involved in yesterday’s activities claim to be protecting the environment, but their actions alone are inviting an environmental incident and put the safety of people, including themselves and potentially first responders and our employees, at risk,” the statement said. “These are criminal acts that endanger the public and the environment. We take this very seriously and will support prosecution of all those involved.”

David Holt, CEA president said, “The steps taken by these individuals to sabotage pipelines–in addition to the threats, intimidation, and cyber-bullying tactics they are using–clearly show that their agenda has nothing to do with protecting the environment and everything to do with shutting down the American economy and hurting everyday Americans, families, small business, and our economic way of life.”

Robin Rorick, American Petroleum Institute midstream group director, condemned what he called the tactics taken by extremists to illegally shut off several cross-border pipelines. 

“We are deeply concerned about the dangerous efforts by professional agitators to shut off pipelines as their actions present significant risk to human life, communities and the environment,” he said. “These extremists do not seem realize that their actions could harm the environment they are trying to protect and harm human life including their own."

Rorick said those committing the crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.


For more on the Bakken, follow us on Twitter @TheBakkenMag