Judge: Flow of Oil Through Dakota Access Pipeline Must Cease Pending EIS

Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance Camp in North Dakota. (2016 Photo by Irina Groushevaia, Flickr/CC)

A U.S. District Court Judge has ordered a halt to the estimated 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil coursing through the Dakota Access Pipeline daily. The pipeline flow must stop, within 30 days, while a full environmental assessment is performed.

The 1,172-mile underground pipeline stretches from the Bakken formation in northwest North Dakota to an oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois, cutting beneath Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, and thus threatening Tribal water sources if a leak were to occur. The crude artery then connects to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, delivering Bakken oil to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. 

The decision, issued Monday, builds on the same judge’s March determination that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it failed to conduct a thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before granting an easement to Texas-based Energy Transfer to construct and operate the segment of the pipeline that runs under Lake Oahe, reported Reuters

Judge James E. Boasberg’s order in favor of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Tribes, who have protested the pipeline since 2016, underscores the gravity of the Corps’ violation of NEPA.

“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect,” Boasberg stated. “It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to DAPL, the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states. Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease.”

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith celebrated the ruling: “Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline. This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”

While Judge Boasberg’s ruling acknowledges the economic implications of shutting down DAPL, as he noted in March, the “federal government had not done an adequate job of studying the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate.” 

Indian Country’s fight to protect Tribal water rights is nothing new. As Robert J. Miller articulates in the book Reservation Capitalism, Tribes have legal authority over enormous amounts of water, yet those rights are often violated. “Unfortunately, the United States did nothing to protect Indian water rights for many decades while federal agencies raced to develop the West and provide water for non-Indian users. Even worse, Tribal lands unfairly bore the brunt of many negative effects of these projects while the benefits were directed at non-reservation lands. One historian stated that Indian lands have often been perceived as ‘national sacrifice areas’ so that greater resource developments can be achieved for the public at large.” 

READ MORE: Robert J. Miller: Taking the Greed Out of Capitalism