The Dakota Access Pipeline decision to begin construction has been delayed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pending further “discussion and analysis” with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Protesters opposing the Datoka Access project have spawned bitter clashes over a decision to construct a 1,172-mile oil pipeline currently under construction that would span from North Dakota to Illinois.
The pipeline’s developer sought permission from the Army Corps to tunnel under the Missouri River in Lake Oahe, North Dakota, to complete the project.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which relies on the lake and river for its drinking water, has objected over environmental concerns. It contends that digging the pipeline under the Missouri River would affect the tribe’s drinking water supply and put communities living downstream “at risk for contamination by crude oil leaks and spills.”
On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers halted further construction on and around the lake, because it “has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement,” according to its statement. Further review was needed in consult with the tribe, it said.
“The Army is mindful of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s repeated dispossessions, including those to support water-resources projects,” according to the letter sent to the tribe by Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). “This history compels great caution and respect in considering the concerns that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has raised regarding the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe.”
The Army Corps said it would consult with the tribe regarding “potential conditions on an easement” that would reduce risks of spills and protect the water supply. It also pledged to do complete the review “expeditiously.”
But the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline disagreed with the latest decision as “lacking legal or factual justification.”
“The Corps knows full well that it is seeking additional consultation with a party [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] that has steadfastly refused to consult,” according to a joint statement from Energy Transfer Partners and Sunonco Logistics Partners.
The companies stated that they would “vigorously pursue its legal rights.”
Last Tuesday, Energy Transfer Partners announced that it had completed the pipeline on each side of Lake Oahe and was preparing to drill as it awaited the easement from the Army Corps. The project had previously received a permit from the Army Corps to tunnel under the lake, it said.
Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO, decried the decision as “motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given.”
Dakota Access is a $3.7 billion project that backers have touted as the safest and most efficient way to transport oil, rather than using rail or trucks. Its proponents also say the pipeline could help the US become less dependent on importing energy from foreign countries.