WASHINGTON, DC, December 4, 2016 (ENS) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works announced today. Instead, the Corps will undertake an environmental impact statement to examine alternative routes.
Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
Her office announced on November 14 that it was delaying its decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies just half a mile south of the proposed crossing.
The originally proposed route would have crossed the Missouri River north of the state capital, Bismark, North Dakota, but the city objected due to the potential for an oil spill that could contaminate drinking water.
The Corps’ decision is a major victory from the Standing Rock Sioux, who have been fighting to protect their land, water and sacred sites from the Dakota Access Pipeline section that Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners seeks to build under their lands.
Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights. Calling themselves “water protectors,” protesters have clashed with local law enforcement officials for months, enduring water cannon, tear gas and arrests for their cause.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois.
The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport some 470,000 barrels of oil a day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels.
The pipeline is nearly completed except for the section under the Missouri River that is at issue.
The proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, a large reservoir behind Oahe Dam on the Missouri River. An Army Corps of Engineers project, Lake Oahe begins in central South Dakota and continues north into North Dakota.
The announcement comes just one day before the Corps’ stated deadline for approximately 7,000 Native American and environmental activists plus 2,000 veterans to leave the encampment.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision,” the tribal chairman said.
“We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement,” said Archambault. “We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water.”
“We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need,” Archambault said.
“Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well,” he said.
Tribal officials said they hope that North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect the Army’s decision and understand the complex process that led to it.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the tribe, warned that Corps’ decision could be appealed by the incoming Trump administration.
Pipeline builders Energy Transfer Partners can sue, and “Trump can try to overturn,” Hasselman told “The Guardian” newspaper. “But overturning it would be subject to close scrutiny by a reviewing court, and we will be watching the new administration closely.”
“Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward,” said Archambault. “We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our Indigenous peoples.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a statement in support of the Corps’ decision. “The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts, as envisioned by NEPA,” she said, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.
Jewell said, “The Army’s announcement underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore tweeted, “Major victory for Standing Rock Sioux & all other water protectors who joined them. Congrats.”
Environmentalists were pleased with the Corps’ decision.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Today, the voices of indigenous people were heard. The rights of a sovereign nation were respected. The Standing Rock Sioux and the myriad of indigenous communities by their side remind us all of the power of individuals to stand up and stand together to demand environmental justice.”