U.S. Court Orders Dakota Access Pipeline Shut, Emptied

NEW YORK (Reuters) — A U.S. District Court on Monday ordered Energy Transfer LP to shut and empty the largest pipeline from the North Dakota shale oil fields within 30 days, in a big win for the Native American tribes who have fought the line's route across a crucial water supply. 

Energy Transfer's 570,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) is a vital artery to transport oil out of North Dakota's Bakken shale basin to the Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries. Native American tribes and environmental groups have long protested the line's construction.

"Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline," said Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it granted an easement to Energy Transfer to construct and operate a segment of the pipeline running beneath Lake Oahe, because they failed to produce an adequate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) despite a requirement for it, the court said.

"Given the seriousness of the Corps' NEPA error, 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," the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in the ruling.

The ruling is a blow to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has sought to accelerate pipeline construction by cutting the red tape and environmental and community review processes that typically slow down projects.

The administration's effects have so far had little impact on large, controversial projects and the latest DAPL order pushes decisions about the future of the pipeline to the next administration.

The ruling follows an unusual step taken by Energy Transfer late last week to prevent contracted shippers on the line from canceling transportation contracts on a proposed expansion of the line.

Energy Transfer did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers expressed deep concern about the court ruling to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline and the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, announced Sunday.

“Our nation’s outdated and convoluted permitting rules are opening the door for a barrage of baseless, activist-led litigation, undermining American energy progress and denying local communities the environmental, employment and economic benefits modern pipelines provide,” Sommers said. “The need to reform our broken permitting system has never been more urgent."

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette blamed activists for the high-profile pipeline setbacks. “I’m not quite sure what they’re cheering except for perhaps the loss of jobs all throughout America,” he said.

P&GJ staff contributed to this report.

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