Corps of Engineers might not complete DAPL review until spring

By Patrick C. Miller | October 09, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might need until April 2018 to complete a court-ordered review of potential spill impacts from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation along the border of North Dakota and South Dakota.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the Corps of Engineers failed to address tribal environmental justice and treaty rights requirements when it approved an easement allowing DAPL to cross the Missouri River about a half mile north of the reservation in south central North Dakota. He ordered the Corps to submit its assessment of those impacts before deciding whether it was necessary to vacate the permits issued by the Corps or shut down DAPL.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with three other Sioux tribes in South Dakota, have asked Boasberg to shut down the 1,172-mile long, 550,000-barrel-per-day pipeline while the Corps completes its review. Although the judge has thus far declined to stop the flow of crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to a hub in Patoka, Illinois, he has yet to rule on the tribes’ request to do so.

In court documents filed last week, the Corps said it had developed and initiated a procedure to further evaluate the impacts of a spill on Standing Rock’s fishing and hunting rights and on environmental justice. The agency requested spill modeling from Dakota Access LLC—a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners which built the $3.8 billion pipeline—but recently learned the work won’t be completed until December.

“Given the current expected time frame for the receipt of additional information, the Corps now anticipates that its review and analysis of the remand issues will not conclude until approximately April 2, 2018,” wrote Jeffrey Wood, acting assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division

In the Friday court filing, Wood said that the Corps is actively working on ways to shorten the timeline, but the April date is the best estimate of when the review will be completed if “all sources outside the Corps provide requested information in a timely and responsive manner.” He noted that the agency had also requested information from the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala Sioux tribes and at least one tribe has requested more time to respond.

 Wood wrote that the Corps could modify the schedule—making it shorter or longer—depending on when it receives the information necessary to complete its review.

Last year and early this year, thousands of protesters spent several months near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation trying to halt construction at the point where DAPL crosses the Missouri River under the Oahe Dam reservoir. After Boasberg cleared the way for the Corps to issue the final easement needed, the Obama administration intervened to stop construction and later announced plans for the agency to conduct a full environmental impact statement.

Within days after taking office, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memo instructing the Corps to expedite the permit approval process for DAPL. The Corps issued the easement for the river crossing and later withdrew the planned EIS. The pipeline went into service on June 1 and has been transporting North Dakota crude since then.