Federal Judge Concludes Dakota Access Pipeline Construction Violated The Law


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

A Standing Rock encampment near the pipeline, pictured back in December 2016. Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Despite extensive resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and despite President Obama ultimately deciding to nix the construction of it, Trump resurrected the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) during his first week as Commander-in-Chief, causing dismay at the time.

Now, it appears a federal judge may have just given them a last-minute reprieve. Explaining his decision in a sizable legal opinion, Washington DC District Court Judge James Boasberg has sided with the tribes, agreeing that the Army Corps of Engineers building DAPL failed to consider the impacts of any oil spills on “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.”


In previous cases, the Sioux argued that the pipeline’s construction would threaten sites of cultural and historical significance, and that the presence of oil would desecrate the sacred waters of Lake Oahe and would infringe on their religious practices. These arguments were successfully thrown out of court, so they turned to the more tangible environmental impacts as the focus of their legal argument.

“The Tribes believe that the Corps did not sufficiently consider the pipeline’s environmental effects before granting permits to Dakota Access to construct and operate DAPL under Lake Oahe, a federally regulated waterway,” the justice notes. To an extent, “the Court agrees,” explaining that “this volley meets with some degree of success.”

This means that the Corps will have to do an environmental assessment of the pipeline, which at the very least will put a spotlight on their plight once again. The judge’s decision, however, does not mean that construction has to be halted – in fact, it’s essentially complete, and oil began flowing earlier this month.

The question of whether or not the oil flow should be stopped may depend on an upcoming court case: Next week, the DAPL’s owner Energy Transfer Partners is due to do battle once more with the Tribes based on this latest legal decision.


In any case, this declaration is a significant victory for both the Tribes and environmentalists who have longed for a sign of hope after it was all-but-crushed when Trump reversed Obama’s earlier decision.

Since it was announced, the 1,900-kilometer (1,200-mile) pipeline running from the oil fields of North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois has caused a storm of controversy, as has its cousin, the Keystone XL pipeline. Driven by concerns over climate change, protesters stood with the Sioux as they were aghast at the thought of oil being driven through their ancestral lands and primary water source.

Will the Tribes now prevail in the courts and get DAPL shut down again? Who knows – but remember, federal judges do seem to be Trump’s primary source of antagonism.

[H/T: EcoWatch]


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