Wed | Jun 28, 2017

Judge won't stop oil from flowing through disputed pipeline

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 3:00 AM
In this October 5, 2016, file photo, heavy equipment is seen at a site where sections of the Dakota Access Pipeline were being buried near the town of St Anthony in Morton County, North Dakota.

Tribes suing to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline are asking a federal appeals court to head off the imminent flow of oil.

The move comes after US District Judge James Boasberg rejected a similar request Tuesday and a motion last week to halt the final stage of construction for the US$3.8-billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois.

The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux appealed that decision to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Attorney Nicole Ducheneaux on Wednesday asked the appeals court for an emergency order preventing oil through the pipeline until the appeal is resolved.

Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners says it could be moving oil as early as Monday.

"The critical factor here is Cheyenne River's lack of likelihood of success on the merits ... the plaintiff does not have a strong case on appeal," Boasberg said in his ruling Tuesday.

Energy Transfer Partners is finishing up pipeline work beneath Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota and the last piece of construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline to move North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois.

The tribes maintain that an oil pipeline under the lake they consider sacred violates their religious rights, but Boasberg says the argument was made too late and is of questionable merit.

The judge also said ETP would be "substantially harmed" by a delay, as it prepares to move oil through the pipeline as early as Monday.

Both ETP and the Army Corps of Engineers had objected to the tribes' latest attempt to halt the project, with Corps attorneys saying in court documents that President Donald Trump "has expressly determined that the pipeline is 'in the national interest.'"

The Corps last month granted ETP permission to lay pipe under the reservoir that it manages for the federal government, after Trump in January urged the project's completion after months of legal delays.

The court battle isn't over. Aside from the tribes' appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the religion argument, the tribes, in their lawsuit before Boasberg, are arguing for more environmental study and for the government to recognise the tribes' treaty rights to clean water.

The Corps on Tuesday filed its opposition to those requests, saying the agency's permission for the Lake Oahe work "represents the culmination of over two years of detailed environmental analysis and extensive consultation with (the tribes)".

Excessive force and intimidation

The pipeline saga has also endured for months outside of the courtroom, with about 750 arrests of protesters in southern North Dakota from August through February. Amnesty International USA on Wednesday said it has documented numerous instances of excessive force or intimidation by police and excessive criminal charges.

The organisation, in a letter, asks Republican Governor Doug Burgum and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to drop or consider dropping charges against protesters, review police practices and open independent investigations into several specific cases.

Police have defended their practices, which have included water sprays, tear gas and non-lethal ammunition such as rubber bullets. Police have said some protesters were violent and took part in riots, and that some targeted police both professionally and personally.

- AP