Corps again finds no significant environmental impacts from DAPL

By Patrick C. Miller | September 04, 2018

The potential impacts to hunting and fishing would not be significant to tribes in North Dakota and South Dakota along the Missouri River downstream from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), according to a court document filed Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A memorandum for the record—filed as a status report in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia—was signed by Col. John Hudson, commander of the Corps of Engineers Omaha District. After more than a year of study, the Corps concluded that there was no need to formally reconsider its July 2016 Final Environmental Assessment and finding of “no significant impact.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Corps and Dakota Access LLC over the permits the agency issued which enabled DAPL to cross the Missouri River under the Oahe Dam reservoir on federal land about a half mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation in south central North Dakota. The lawsuit, backed by environmental organization Earth Justice, was joined by the Cheyenne River, Oglala and Yankton Sioux tribes which border the Missouri River in South Dakota.

The 1,172-mile-long pipeline—built by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners—triggered months of sometimes violent protests. It has been operational since June 2017 after the Trump administration reversed the Obama administration’s decision to withhold the Corps permits. DAPL transports about 500,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude across four states to a terminal in Patoka, Illinois.

In June last year, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg directed the Corps to consider the impacts of an oil spill on tribal fishing rights, hunting rights and environmental justice, as well as “the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”

Hudson wrote in his memo, “The Corps considered the comments and concerns expressed by the Tribes regarding the data and methodologies used by the Corps. While the Tribes opposed the Corps’ authorizations for the pipeline’s Lake Oahe crossing, they did not provide information that demonstrated that a substantial dispute exists as to the size, nature, or effect of the federal action. Accordingly, the Corps finds that the effects of the federal action here are not ‘likely to be highly controversial.’”

Hudson further stated that the risk of a spill is low and any impacts to the hunting and fishing resources would be for a “limited scope and duration.” In reviewing the environmental justice aspect of the permits, he said the Corps found that the construction and operation of DAPL didn’t disproportionately impact minority or low-income populations. Therefore, the Corps maintains that no further analysis or mitigation is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). A status report also filed Friday with the court said the memo is supported by a remand analysis of more than 100 pages which is undergoing a confidentiality review before being released.

Mike Faith, Standing Rock tribal chairman, said the tribe will closely review the decision to determine how best to proceed. He issued a statement saying, “The Army Corps’ decision to rubberstamp its illegal and flawed permit for DAPL will not stand.”

He also added, “The Tribe has worked in good faith every step of the way to develop technical and cultural information to help the Corps fully understand the consequences of permitting this pipeline. They took our hard work and threw it in the trash.”