Category Archives: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Dakota pipeline shutdown: temporary victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Court Orders Dakota Access Pipeline To Shut Down Pending Environmental Review

Forbes, by Elana Lyn Gross, Jul 6, 2020
Native Nations Rise Portland Protest Against DAPL
Ow Hi of the Warm Springs tribe takes part in a protest showing solidarity with the “Native Nations … [+] GETTY IMAGES


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.


Dakota Access Oil Line To Be Shut By Court In Blow For Trump (Bloomberg)

Shailene Woodley: The Truth About My Arrest (TIME)

Hollywood A-Listers Join Protests Against Controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (Fox News)

LOCAL OP-ED – Craig Snider: Three reasons to oppose crude by rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald

3 reasons to oppose crude by rail

by Craig Snider, August 9, 2014

WHEN MY FAMILY MOVED TO BENICIA IN 2003, we spent our first week in the Best Western on East Second Street. During our stay we met several workers visiting from refineries in Texas to assist with projects at local refineries. During breakfast, I mentioned to one of them that we had bought a house in Benicia and were waiting to move in. He replied, “I wouldn’t have my family living within five miles of a refinery,” implying that it was unsafe because of the risk of an accident.

We had already purchased our home and were pleased with the location of the town, the high-quality schools, the quaint downtown and the local arts community. At the time, I judged that the prevailing wind direction and rolling hills would likely buffer our home from the effects of any serious accident, such as the recent Chevron fire in Richmond, and that the many Benicia amenities outweighed any risk the refinery posed.

Now we are faced with the prospect of 100 tank cars of crude oil being hauled into Benicia every day. Valero insists this would be safe and warns that without a new facility to offload the crude oil, local jobs, company profits and charitable contributions would be at risk.

I have no doubt that, if necessary, crude oil could be transported by rail to various parts of the country safely and efficiently. We have the technological and engineering expertise to do amazing things these days, and such expertise could readily be applied to the crude oil transport business.

Some in our community scoff at the risk posed by crude by rail (it’s comforting to some that the Quebec derailment that killed 47 people and the many accidents that have since occurred were caused by human error and could have been prevented). Others are horrified at the thought of a similar accident here or elsewhere. They highlight the fact that this crude oil is more volatile and toxic than other types, that an accident here would wreak havoc on our lives, and they want to stop the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project in its tracks.

As I see it, there are three major reasons to oppose the project at this time.

First, simply put, hauling 100 tank car loads of volatile Bakken crude or toxic Canadian tar sands crude raises the risk of an accident relative to the status quo. Benicians already live in the shadow of a refinery; is it really necessary or desirable to add to this risk to satisfy Valero?

Second, rules governing high-hazard flammable trains need to be thoroughly vetted and approved before the Valero proposal can be approved. Between March 2013 and May 2014, there were 12 significant oil train derailments in the United States and Canada, including the Quebec accident. Crude by rail arriving in California was up 506 percent, to 6.3 million barrels, just last year. In fact, more crude oil was transported by rail in North America in 2013 than in the previous five years combined. Yet it wasn’t until the first of this month that regulations were proposed for dealing with this unprecedented increase in “High-Hazard Flammable Trains” (see Federal Register, Aug. 1, 2014, pg. 45,016).

Apparently the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) expects to issue new regulations governing crude by rail sometime after a 60-day comment period that ends Sept. 30. Oddly, their federal notice includes a brief two-page “environmental assessment” that concludes there will be no significant environmental impacts associated with their proposals. Apparently we are to trust the railroad industry and their minders to do the right thing after they have steadfastly refused to institute train safety mechanisms, such as “Positive Train Control,” that would have saved 288 lives, prevented 6,500 injuries and 139 crashes in the past 45 years. At a minimum, the rules governing high-hazard flammable trains should be subject to a full environmental impact statement as provided by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Such an environmental impact statement might determine that crude-by-rail terminals should be located a minimum distance from residential areas and that crude-carrying trains travelling through metropolitan areas be guided by automated systems that monitor speed, location and rail traffic, so that the potential for human error would be substantially reduced. Such systems currently exist, but have been largely ignored by the railroad companies. These measures need to be studied and decided upon before the Valero proposal is approved.

Finally, what’s the rush? Many would argue that fossil fuel use needs to be curtailed because of greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental havoc caused by ever-more-destructive means of obtaining oil (fracking, tar sands, etc.). Approving the Valero project gives tacit approval to these means, allowing our community to profit at the expense of other people and places. Maybe it’s time to just say no.

Craig Snider is a Benicia resident. He recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service, where he was regional environmental coordinator for the national forests in California from 2003-14.