Three years after the Dakota Access pipeline first started carrying oil, a federal judge ordered Monday that the pipeline must be shut down during a court-ordered environmental review that is necessary because the U.S. government violated federal environmental law, in a decision seen as a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a defeat for the oil industry and President Donald Trump, who backed it in 2017.
In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux and other American Indian tribes sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approving the Dakota Access pipeline, saying it put tribal water supplies and cultural resources at risk.
The Obama administration paused the project in 2016 after thousands of pipeline opponents protested, but Trump put it back on track after taking office in 2017.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the court found that the U.S. Amy Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted an easement to Dakota Access to create a segment of the crude-oil pipeline without writing the required Environmental Impact Statement.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the Dakota Access pipeline, argued that the project could lose as much as $643 million in 2020 and $1.4 billion in 2021 and that the shutdown would have serious consequences for the North Dakota oil industry and the entire state of North Dakota because its economy is largely dependent on revenue from oil and gas taxes; the tribes argued that the projections were “wildly exaggerated” because a collapse in oil prices, demand and production had already caused production to plummet.
The court noted the “serious effects” the shutdown would have for many states, companies and workers but wrote that, “given the seriousness of the Corps’ … 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.”
Energy Transfer told Bloomberg Law it plans to immediately ask Boasberg to freeze the decision and will head to the U.S. Court of Appeals if the request is denied.
“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,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
The decision states that the pipeline must be shut down within 30 days and can not re-open until the report is created. The court expects it will take 13 months.
Hollywood celebrities including Jane Fonda, Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck spoke out against the pipeline and Shailene Woodley was arrested at a protest.
Emails: How State Department Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge’s “Keystone XL Clone”
By Steve Horn, April 20, 2015 – 03:58
DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets.
Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge’s choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.
Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge’s legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”
On March 18, 2014, Ona Hahs, Attorney-Advisor for the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, informed her Department colleagues in an email that “we have to wrap this up” because she was informed by Coburn that Enbridge was moving forward with the project and about to break ground on it.
Just over a week later on March 27, 2014, Hahs emailed her colleagues again, informing them that Coburn had just called her again and they were “running out of time” to offer Enbridge what it requested.
Though officially written by Cekuta, the bottom of the memo indicates it was drafted by both Hahs and Michael Brennan. Before serving in various capacities for the State Department beginning in 2003, Brennan worked for Shell Oil as its Manager for Export Sales Business Development in Asia and Latin America, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Later that same day, Brennan fired an email off to Coburn informing him of the State Department approval decision.
“Keystone XL Clone” Precedent Cited
In the June 6 memo penned by Enbridge’s counsel, its attorneys explained why “interconnections on Line 67 can take place in advance of the U.S. Department of State’s issuance of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (‘SEIS‘) and the requested Presidential Permit to authorize Enbridge to operate the border segment of Line 67 at its design capacity of 880,000 barrels per day.”
Among the myriad legal cases cited in the memo, Coburn and Runyan pointed to the Sierra Club, et al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers case reported on by DeSmogBlog, which Enbridge argued and won as a defendant.
Coburn and Runyan wrote that the Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers case rejects the legal “argument that construction of pipeline outside the area of federal permitting jurisdiction could be [prohibited] pending NEPA review.”
“Because construction of the pump stations and interconnections are not occurring within the border segment of Line 67, and are independent from the Line 67 border capacity expansion…this activity is not required to await the completion of the SEIS,” they wrote.
That case, like the current one, centered around NEPA.
In that one, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handed Enbridge a controversial Nationwide Permit 12 permit to build its now-operational Flanagan South pipeline, which Sierra Club argued circumvented the NEPA process. It appears that case set an important legal precedent.
Together, all three pipeline pieces make up what DeSmogBlog has called the “Keystone XL Clone” pipeline system.
Asked about the emails, Doug Hayes, the Sierra Club attorney working on the U.S. District Court of Minnesota case, wrote in an email to DeSmogBlog that he thinks the State Department is essentially partaking in a dereliction of duty.
“There is absolutely no question that the State Department has the authority to tell Enbridge to stand down and follow the process that was always intended,” wrote Hayes. “The State Department is just not taking its presidential permitting responsibilities seriously and letting Enbridge call the shots.”
Neither representatives from Enbridge, the Steptoe & Johnson attorneys nor the State Department officials involved in the behind-the-scenes permitting of the “illegal scheme” responded to requests for comment sent by DeSmogBlog.