Army Corps easement allows Dakota Access Pipeline completion

By Patrick C. Miller | February 08, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week issued the final easement that will allow for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) across the Missouri River in south central North Dakota.

The action reverses efforts by the Obama administration to delay completion of the 1,172-mile-long, $3.8 billion DAPL project that will transport about a half million barrels a day of North Dakota crude to a terminal in Patoka, Illinois. The project previously received approvals from state regulatory agencies in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

“After months of unnecessary delay, the Missouri River easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline is being issued by the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “North Dakota looks forward to the safe completion and operation of this modern energy infrastructure to improve America’s economy and security.”

David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, applauded the Trump administration’s efforts to move forward with completion of the DAPL project.

“It’s time to end the hyper-partisan politics that have stifled energy projects across the nation and put American families, farmers, small businesses and laborers at risk,” he said. “We support a sensible approach to all-of-the-above energy development that puts people first, not the say ‘no’ approach of anti-development groups.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the pipeline—which claimed the crossing just north of the Standing Rock Reservation threatened cultural sites and the tribe’s drinking water—sparked months of sometimes violent protests by thousands who established camps on Corps of Engineers land near the crossing site.

On Tuesday, Paul Cramer, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, sent a letter to the House Committee on Natural Resources—advising Congress of the Army’s intent to grant an easement to Dakota Access LLC. This would allow the company to complete the pipeline crossing under the Lake Oahe Reservoir just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The letter said that consistent with the Dakota Access Pipeline memorandum issued by President Donald Trump on Jan. 24, the Corps of Engineers intended to waive its policy of a 14-day wait following Congressional notification within 24 hours. The Army also issued a letter stating its intent to withdraw plans to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the DAPL easement.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the Corps of Engineer’s announcement “brings this issue one step closer to final resolution.” She added that “it’s critical that North Dakotans are able to feel safe in their neighborhoods, in their jobs, and in their daily lives.”

The decision to terminate the EIS—which would have delayed completion of the project by a year or more—drew strong responses from environmental groups and the Standing Rock Tribe that pledged to fight the pipeline in court.  

“Americans have come together in support of the tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process,” said David Archambault, tribal chairman. “The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration—yet again—is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.”

Jan Hasselman, a staff attorney with Earthjustice in Seattle who has represented the tribe in court, said, “The Obama administration correctly found that the tribe’s treaty rights needed to be acknowledged and protected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations.”

However, a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in federal court to stop the DAPL project was rejected by Judge James Boasberg in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Shortly after Boasberg’s decision, the Obama administration intervened, saying it needed to reassess the Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant a permit for the pipeline crossing on federal land beneath the Missouri River.

"We're pleased that the Trump administration has followed the counsel of the Army Corps of Engineers and the letter of law by indicating its intention to issue the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure (MAIN) Coalition. 

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he will continue to work with the Corps, the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to secure additional federal law enforcement resources to support state and local law enforcement at the protest sites.

“Our nation needs new energy infrastructure, which means we must have a process to build safe, efficient and environmentally sound projects like pipelines and power lines,” Hoeven said. “Going forward, we need to review the permitting process to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and that a fair, certain, and legal process has been followed.”