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Judge orders monitoring, audit of Dakota Access pipeline

Judge orders monitoring, audit of Dakota Access pipeline
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A federal judge on Monday imposed a series of conditions on the Dakota Access pipeline, which is currently transporting oil while undergoing a court-ordered environmental review.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ordered Dakota Access operators to coordinate an oil spill response plan with federal and tribal officials near Lake Oahe in North Dakota, conduct a third-party audit of the pipeline’s compliance with federal and state regulations, and produce bi-monthly reports on the pipeline’s operations.

Boasberg said the public has “an interest in ensuring the status quo at Lake Oahe is preserved” while the 1,170 mile, 570,000 barrel per day pipeline undergoes the new environmental review.

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“The interim conditions … are instead a means by which the court can ensure that it receives up-to-date and necessary information about the operation of the pipeline and the facts on the ground,” he wrote in an opinion issued Monday morning.

Boasberg previously ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline, which began pumping oil in June, needs to go through a more thorough environmental review process, especially near Lake Oahe, which local tribes consider sacred.

He also ruled that the pipeline can continue transporting oil during that time, predicting there is a “significant likelihood” federal regulators will approve the project after that review moves forward.

Opponents of the pipeline, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, requested Boasberg impose conditions on the pipeline until regulators finalize that review. Federal officials expect that process to stretch into the spring.

Dakota Access argued the court doesn’t have the authority to impose those conditions, and said previous government approvals of the pipeline are sufficient to ensure its safety.

Boasberg disagreed, saying the new conditions are “means by which the court can gather information about the risks posed by the pipeline … and can ensure that the status quo is preserved for both sides.”

He specifically raised last month's Keystone pipeline oil spill in South Dakota, where the pipeline leaked 5,000 barrels of oil.

“Although the court is not suggesting that a similar leak is imminent at Lake Oahe, the fact remains that there is an inherent risk with any pipeline,” Boasberg concluded.