(Recasts first paragraph, adds next step for courts)
By Timothy Gardner
March 7 A U.S. judge on Tuesday ruled against
Native American tribes seeking to stop the Dakota Access
Pipeline as their legal options narrow weeks before oil is set
to flow on the project.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia rejected the tribes' request for an
injunction to withdraw permission issued by the Army Corps for
the last link of the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe in North
Energy Transfer Partners LP is building the $3.8
billion pipeline to move crude from the Northern Plains to the
Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico.
The denial of the injunction represents yet another setback
to the tribes – the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River
Sioux – that have been leading the charge against the line,
which runs adjacent to tribal territory in southern North
The tribes had argued that the pipeline would render water
they use for religious ceremonies spiritually impure even if the
pipeline goes under Lake Oahe. They said the pipeline was
reminiscent of an ancient prophesy of a Black Snake that would
harm natives and that they could not use other water supplies in
the region because they had been polluted by decades of mining.
Boasberg said in a written ruling that the Cheyenne tribe
"remained silent as to the Black Snake prophesy and its concerns
about oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe" during two years of
legal disputes against the line.
Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People's Law
Project said "it is simply unacceptable that the government is
allowing Energy Transfer Partners to build this pipeline through
our sacred lands." The water the pipeline threatens supplies
used by the Lakota and more than 17 million other people
downstream, he said.
The tribes had won a reprieve from the Democratic Obama
administration in early December, but the victory was
short-lived as Republican President Donald Trump signed an
executive order days after taking office on Jan. 20 that
smoothed the path for the last permit needed.
Energy Transfer Partners needed only to cross beneath Lake
Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to connect a final gap
in the 1,170-mile (1,885-km) pipeline, which will move oil from
the Bakken shale formation to a terminus in Illinois.
The company said in a filing late Monday that it plans to
start pumping oil through a section of the line under the
Missouri River by the week of March 13.
Lisa Dillinger, a spokeswoman for the pipeline, said the
company was pleased with Boasberg's decision and that it has
"progressed quickly with the final piece of construction."
An oil analyst said the pipeline would help slash
transportation costs for producers in the Bakken, one of their
He predicted that the ruling and the Trump administration's
pro-oil stance could clear the way for more pipelines. "If we're
setting precedent where we're building pipelines without real
restrictions, I think this is a kickoff to what's going to
happen in the next few years,” said Carl Larry, president of Oil
Outlooks and Opinions.
Public opposition to the pipeline drew thousands of people
to the North Dakota plains last year, including high-profile
political and celebrity supporters, along with veterans’ groups
upset by the use of force by law enforcement.
After the legal victory in December, Standing Rock Sioux
chairman Dave Archambault II asked protesters to leave; the
primary protest camp on federal land was evacuated by
mid-February, though substantial cleanup remains. The last
protesters burned structures as they left the camp.
Archambault said that his tribe and its allies will continue
to fight larger legal battles in the case, including the
legality of the permitting. The court will next consider issues
including the tribes' effort to stop the pipeline from operating
until the Army Corps completes an environmental impact
assessment that Trump's executive order cut short.
"The fight against the pipeline has changed, but it
continues with as much strength as ever," Archambault said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici in
Washington and David Gaffen, Catherine Ngai in New York; editing
by Jonathan Oatis)