Dakota Access pushes to finish pipeline with Army Corps easement in hand

Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) in Washington, D.C. Photo: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

The wealthy backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline are quickly moving to complete their controversial project after securing final approval from the Trump administration.

The 1,172-mile pipeline is all but finished except for a small portion on federally-managed land in North Dakota. An easement that's needed to complete the costly project was formally secured by the pipeline company on Wednesday, barely a day after the decision was announced in Washington, D.C.

"With this action, Dakota Access now has received all federal authorizations necessary to proceed expeditiously to complete construction of the pipeline," Energy Transfer Partners, the firm behind the project, said in a statement.

Thanks to the easement, a copy of which was filed in federal court, Dakota Access can start drilling a tunnel beneath the Missouri River. The firm will then be able to install a 30-inch pipe in the tunnel to connect completed portions of the pipeline on both sides of Lake Oahe.

According to an attorney for the firm, crude could be placed in the pipeline within 60 days. And oil could flow along the entire four-state route in less than 90 days.

Once the work is done, Dakota Access will be connected to an existing pipeline and both are "expected to be in service in the second quarter of 2017," Energy Transfer said in the statement.

But the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies less than a half-mile from the drilling site at Lake Oahe, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are vowing a strong fight to stop the oil from flowing. They weren't consulted by the Trump team before the Department of the Army and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the easement even though the pipeline impacts their treaty territory, sacred sites and water resources.

Cheyenne River fired the opening shot in the new battle on Thursday with a motion seeking to halt any construction activities. In a sworn declaration, Chairman Harold Frazier said he feared authorities in North Dakota would resume their harsh treatment of people who have gathered near Lake Oahe to resist the pipeline.

"If Dakota Access begins to drill before this court can rule on the legality of this matter, these attacks will continue," Frazier said as the tribe requested an oral argument to present its case.

A map included in the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline shows the area where drilling will occur in North Dakota. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Judge James E. Boasberg previously scheduled a hearing this coming Monday after he was told that a decision on the pipeline was in the works. So far nothing in the court record has indicated he will act sooner now that the easement has been officially issued.

Standing Rock leaders are planning to return to court to fight the easement as well. They also intend to dispute the Trump administration's decision to cancel an environmental review of the final portion of the pipeline.

The environmental impact statement, or EIS, was ordered two days before President Donald Trump took office on January 20. But it was abruptly canceled on Tuesday as the easement was approved.

"Process exists for a reason," the tribe said in a statement on Wednesday as it submitted initial comments on the EIS. "This reversal is pure politics and is arbitrarily shunning safe drinking water for millions of Americans in favor of corporate oil interests."

Although a notice of the cancellation has not yet been published in the Federal Register, comments have apparently been shut down, at least online. The regulations.gov page for the Dakota Access EIS currently reads "Comments Not Accepted."

"The Army Corps has already made a determination that the pipeline crossing affects treaty rights, and that more study and consultation with tribes is required," President Brian Cladoosby of the National Congress of American Indians said in a statement. "The Corps may not change this decision without providing a rationale for why the DAPL easement no longer threatens treaty rights."

The notice that will eventually show up in the Federal Register didn't offer much of a rationale for terminating the EIS. But it cited one pretty big reason for doing so: President Trump's January 24 directive on the pipeline.

"Granting this easement without meaningful tribal consultation, nor proper review of environmental impacts, is unlawful and morally unacceptable," a group of Democrats and Independents in Congress said in a letter to Trump on Tuesday.

Dakota Access Pipeline Approval Documents:
Department of Justice Notice | Department of the Army Approval Memorandum | Notice of Termination of EIS for Dakota Access Pipeline | Easement Letter to Congressional Leadership

White House Documents:
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of American Pipelines (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing (January 24, 2017)
Press Release: President Trump Takes Action to Expedite Priority Energy and Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in Connection With Dakota Access, LLC's Request for an Easement To Cross Lake Oahe, North Dakota (January 18, 2017)

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