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What's next for the Dakota Access Pipeline? Recent court rulings cast doubt on future

Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- The future of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which sparked an opposition movement led by tribes across the nation, including many from Washington, now is in doubt, following a barrage of court rulings and a decision before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The 1,172-mile-long pipeline continues to move oil, despite a court ruling last month that yanked the pipeline's permit to operate.

A ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this week kicked back to the lower court an injunction that required the pipeline to be shut down and drained of oil by Wednesday, Aug. 5, stating the basis for that finding was inadequate. But the court upheld that lower court's decision to vacate permits for operation of the pipeline.

The split decision by the court puts the Corps of Engineers for the Omaha District in the position of deciding what to do next. A spokesman for the district declined to comment Thursday, as did the U.S. Department of Justice.

The pipeline has the capacity to move 570,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to the Midwest, where the pipeline makes more connections to Gulf Coast ports. The pipeline has been operating since June 2017.

Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the pipeline, said in an emailed statement Thursday that it's staying in the fight to keep moving oil. The company maintains the environmental review for the pipeline was adequate and the underground pipeline is safe.


The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), a nonprofit representing 57 tribes from Alaska to California, continues to oppose the pipeline, said Don Sampson, head of the climate change program from ATNI, and a traditional chief of the Walla Walla Tribe of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The ATNI, as well as the Stillaguamish, Nez Perce and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation were among 28 tribes that signed on as friends of the court in the suit to shut down the pipeline.

Sampson's family took 80 Pendleton blankets, elk, roots and berries to Standing Rock in the bitter winter of 2016 to support thousands of tribal members and their allies. The protest encampment at Standing Rock drew worldwide attention, both for the vehemence of the protest against the pipeline, and the violence by police against the demonstrators, including hosing them with water during freezing temperatures.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won its court fight against the pipeline, only to be set back by an executive order by newly elected President Donald Trump, who demanded the pipeline go forward.


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