Construction work restarted on October 11 on the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota after a federal appeals court in Washington, DC dealt a setback to a Native American tribe seeking to halt the US$3.8 billion project. A three-judge panel denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for a permanent injunction on construction of Dakota Access. Thousands of protesters, however, remained camped nearby and said they would still try to stop Energy Transfer Partners’ four-state pipeline from proceeding by chaining themselves to equipment.
The same day as work restarted on Dakota Access, environmental activists tried to stop flows on other pipelines that carry crude from Canada to the US. Four pipelines were temporarily closed as a precautionary measure, according to their operators. This halted the flow of millions of barrels of oil.
At least nine protesters were arrested, and Canadian heavy crude prices rose to their highest level since July, according to Bloomberg data.
The activists targeted pipelines that supply up to 15% of daily US consumption, or 2.8 million bpd of oil, reported Reuters. The pipelines carry oil to the states of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington. The protest group Climate Direct Action said the move was aimed at supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its opposition to Dakota Access. The protest group said it had studied how to shut down pipelines without spillage, but the pipelines were closed before the protesters reached them, rather than as a result of their actions.
Problems in the pipeline
The Standing Rock Sioux has claimed that Dakota Access – which has mostly been completed – would encroach on sacred land and harm the tribe’s water supply.
In a response to the appeals court ruling, the tribe said it would continue to fight portions of the 1,170-mile (1,883-km) pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s chairman, Dave Archambault II, described the ruling as “disappointing”, and told NBC News: “We aren’t done with this fight.”
The judges have said that the final decision on Dakota Access rests with another part of the federal government, the US Army Corps of Engineers. After the ruling, the Corps said it was studying the matter and looking into whether to change consultations with tribes. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe maintains that it was not adequately consulted.
A temporary injunction on a portion of the construction work was issued in late August as protests, backed by dozens of Native American tribes, escalated and led to arrests. The injunction halted work on the pipeline over 20 miles (32 km) on either side of the Missouri River, which the tribe uses as a water source.
The protests illustrate the central role pipelines have come to play in environmentalists’ fight against oil, especially crude from Canada’s oil sands. In 2015, US President Barack Obama’s administration refused to grant TransCanada a cross-border permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the US. Obama cited climate change concerns – because increased takeaway capacity would boost oil sands production – as being among the reasons for the refusal.
On October 13, five US Senators sent a letter to Obama asking that his administration halt construction on Dakota Access until a full environmental review and tribal consultation have been conducted.