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Oil may start to flow from the hotly disputed Dakota Access pipeline as soon as 20 March, after a federal judge on Tuesday denied a request for an emergency injunction by a Native American Tribe, news agencies report.
The court said an injunction would not be in the public interest.
A section of the pipeline in North Dakota will run under Lake Oahe, whose waters the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe uses for sacred purposes.
While the court acknowledged that the “tribe is likely to suffer irreparable harm to its members religious exercise if oil is introduced into the pipeline”, the injunction would “substantially” harm Dakota Access financially and logistically, the federal judge’s Tuesday ruling read.
In the meantime, the removal of the threat of an emergency injunction paves the way for Energy Transfer Partners to start pumping crude through the 1,172-mile pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois.
On Monday, lawyers for the company said oil flowing through the pipeline should reach the Lake Oahe portion between 20 and 22 March if final testing is successful.
Energy Transfer Partners began drilling in early February, immediately after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the easement for construction of the disputed segment.
The US$3.8-billion Dakota Access pipeline, which was last year suspended by the Obama administration but greenlighted again by Donald Trump, will carry crude from the North Dakota Bakken shale play to Illinois. On its website, Energy Transfer Partners notes that Lake Oahe already contains eight other pipelines.
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The inauguration of Trump as president saw the approval process for this last leg of the Dakota Access pipeline expedited.
The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe is not the only tribe opposing the pipeline, and Energy Transfer Partners is not fully in the clear, despite the Tuesday ruling.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe also has a reservation near this pipeline stretch and is claiming that the project is in violation of treaty rights. They also oppose the results of an environmental impact test on their water source due to the pipeline. This issue is still unresolved, and rulings are set to come out in April.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.