Feds urge judge not to shut down Dakota Access pipeline during review

Feds urge judge not to shut down Dakota Access pipeline during review
© Greg Nash

Government lawyers are urging a federal judge not to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline while regulators conduct a new environmental review of the project because there is a “serious possibility” the review will reaffirm the pipeline’s earlier permits.

In a court filing late Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers said their new review of the controversial pipeline could maintain the conclusion that it poses no risk to North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a lake bisected by the pipeline that local Native American tribes consider environmentally and culturally important.

“There is a serious possibility that the Corps will reaffirm its original conclusions based in part on its conclusion that the pipeline segment under Lake Oahe is highly unlikely to spill into the lake,” Corps lawyers said in their filing.

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Shutting down the pipeline during the new review “could actually increase the risk of an oil spill if oil that would otherwise be transported in the pipeline was instead transported by rail.”

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in June ruled the government needs to reconsider parts of its environmental review of Dakota Access, a $3.8 billion pipeline that can carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day.

Oil began flowing through the pipeline before the judge’s decision, but he didn’t order Dakota Access shut down while the new environmental review moves forward. Government lawyers have said they could finish the review by December.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have asked Boasberg to order Dakota Access offline during the review. Lawyers told Boasberg earlier this month that the Army Corps will use the new review “as a paper exercise designed to generate additional explanation for decisions already made.”

Shutting down the project now, they argued, “is particularly compelled because the Court held that the Corps gave short shrift to the Tribes’ treaty rights and the integrity of the Standing Rock Reservation homeland, adding insult to the injuries caused by the long legacy of broken promises made by the United States to the Sioux Nation.”

Lawyers expect a decision on the pipeline's operation by next month.