Army Corps planning environmental impact statement on DAPL

By Patrick C. Miller | January 18, 2017

An announcement today from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers saying that it intends to pursue an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a Dakota Access Pipeline easement was met with strong criticism from industry organizations.

The Corps published a notice in the Federal Register of its intent prepare an EIS for an easement that would allow the pipeline to cross the Missouri River under the Lake Oahe reservoir in North Dakota just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The crossing site became the location for ongoing protests after the Sioux Tribe claimed DAPL threatened its drinking water and cultural sites.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said, “The Dakota Access Pipeline followed every aspect of the law and worked diligently to adhere to the regulatory process, as was confirmed by two federal court rulings.”

He added that NDPC is looking forward to working with the new Trump administration “to restore certainty in our regulatory process and reinstate the rule of law.”

Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN) Coalition, called the move to delay completion of the DAPL project—perhaps by years—a political stunt.

“We remain optimistic that the incoming Trump administration will soon issue the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and also demonstrate a willingness to support American infrastructure projects and the American jobs that go along with them,” he said.

The 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion pipeline will carry about a half million barrels per day of oil from western North Dakota to a terminal in Patoka, Illinois, also crossing through South Dakota and Iowa. DAPL is being built by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LLC. In July 2016, an environmental assessment of the pipeline conducted by the Amy Corps found “no significant impact.”

According to ETP, “The pipeline will transport domestically-produced, light, sweet crude oil from North Dakota to major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and more environmentally responsible manner than other modes of transportation, including rail or truck.”

Last September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg rejected a motion from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to issue an injunction halting work on the project. The Obama administration immediately intervened, issuing a joint statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of Interior saying that it needed to “reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.”

The Army Corps said it intends to “prepare an EIS to consider any potential impacts to the human environment that the grant of an easement may cause.” It will study alternative locations for the Missouri River pipeline crossing, the potential risks and impacts of an oil spill, and potential impacts to Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water intakes and the tribe's water, treaty fishing and hunting rights. In addition, the agency will examine the extent and location of the tribe's Lake Oahe treaty rights.

“The Obama administration’s decision is just more grandstanding in an attempt to hold on to an unraveling legacy,” Ness said. “All this administration has done is set a dangerous new precedent that you may repeatedly break the law, create and spread misinformation, terrorize innocent bystanders and citizens, and step on the rights of others to get your way regardless of the legality and necessity of a project.”

Although the river crossing site is not on tribal land, the Corps’ notice said, “The Tribe protests the crossing primarily because it relies on Lake Oahe for water for a variety of purposes, the Tribe's reservation boundaries encompass portions of Lake Oahe downstream from the proposed crossing, and the Tribe retains water, treaty fishing, and hunting rights in the Lake.”

But Stevens said, “It’s unfortunate that the outgoing administration would try to hamstring the professionals at the Army Corps of Engineers who worked diligently for years to ensure the Dakota Access Pipeline was sited and constructed in the environmentally and culturally sensitive manner.”

The DAPL battle is also continuing in the courts. According to Reuters, ETP this week filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia asking a federal judge to stop the Corps from beginning its EIS until a ruling can be made on whether the company has received all required permit approvals.

Comments on the Corps’ notice to conduct an EIS on the DAPL easement can be submitted until Feb. 20.