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The Dakota Access oil pipeline can continue shipping oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields to Illinois despite protests, U.S. district judge James Boasberg ruled in the latest chapter of the saga around the project.
Four months ago, Boasberg ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out a new environmental impact review since the original one failed to adequately address the consequences of a potential oil spill on the fishing and hunting rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which leads the protests against a section of the pipeline that is adjacent to tribal lands.
The US$3.8-billion, 470,000-bpd pipeline started carrying crude in May, and after the judge’s latest ruling will continue to do so at least until next April, while the Army Corps conducts its review. The Standing Rock sued the Army Corps. for its approval of the pipeline, using the argument that it would contaminate its main water source, the Missouri River.
The company that built the Dakota Access, Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP), has countered the tribe’s claims by pointing out that there are several other pipelines that already under Lake Oahe that have been there for decades and have drawn no protests. DAPL runs parallel to an existing pipeline, the Northern Border Pipeline, and does not actually pass through tribal lands.
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In June the plaintiffs asked the court to suspend the operation of Dakota Access until the environmental review is ready, but Boasberg ruled that suspension is not the best course of action: now that the Army Corps. was conducting the environmental review with the pipeline in operation, they could prove that an oil spill would not have adverse effects on the environment.
“The dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline has now taken nearly as many twists and turns as the 1,200-mile pipeline itself,” Judge Boasberg said in his latest ruling, adding that the flaws discovered in the Army Corps. original review were not “fundamental or incurable”.
The judge cautioned the Army Corps., however, to not treat the review as mere bureaucracy. If the plaintiffs are still unhappy with the review after its second version, they would have the chance to voice their grievances next year.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.