‘Severe environmental consequences:’ Judge orders Dakota Access pipeline to be emptied, shut down

A Lakota Sioux woman waits for her sisters in 2016, near the rope stretched across State Highway 1806 near the Standing Rock Camp. The rope was a few hundred yards from the barricade erected by law enforcement on the Blackwater Bridge where several demonstrations over the Dakota Access pipeline had taken place. (Courthouse News photo/Laura Lundquist)

(CN) The Dakota Access pipeline must shut down by August 5, a federal judge ruled Monday, a resonating defeat for the oil industry after a long-fought battle with Native American tribes.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to produce the mandatory environmental impact report on crude-oil running beneath Lake Oahe along the Missouri River when it approved the pipeline in 2016.

“Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake,” Boasberg wrote. “Today they finally achieve that goal — at least for the time being.”

Nominated by President Barack Obama to the Washington court, Boasberg ordered Dakota Access LLC to halt the flow of oil until the government can address the deficiencies in the environmental impact statement that the National Environmental Policy Act required it to file.

The Army Corps has said it expects to complete the regulatory analysis by mid-2021.

Boasberg first ordered the government to undergo stricter environmental review in 2017, and he issued a similar directive for additional regulatory assessment this past March.

Saying the initial error posed severe environmental consequences, however, several tribes led by the Standing Rock Sioux urged Boasberg to stop the flow of oil.

“Although mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause, the court now concludes that the answer is yes,” Boasberg wrote this morning. “Clear precedent favoring vacatur during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the thirteen months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take.”

Alluding to the travel slow down brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Boasberg took note of the impact that his order to drain the pipeline in 30 days will have on consumers.

“The court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect. 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,” the judge wrote.

“Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA error,” Boasberg continued, “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.”