While protests against the $3.8 billion oil pipeline project draw people from around the country, the Standing Rock Sioux and developers of the Dakota Access Pipeline are also clashing in court. Here are the key legal issues.
While protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline garner public attention, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is also trying to block the $3.8 billion project in the courtroom.
Rerouted from the company’s original chosen path north of the capital city of Bismarck, N.D., in part to protect municipal wells, the current route sends the pipeline under the Missouri River a half-mile north of the border of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The route is just upstream from the tribe’s drinking-water intake.
Pipeline construction so far has been permitted in a fast-track fashion by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Only a short-form assessment of natural resource, cultural or environmental justice concerns was done, with scant if any consultation with the tribe, records show.
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- March 28: What the completed Dakota Access pipeline means for key players.
- Feb. 23: Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp closed; 46 holdouts arrested.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 13: Judge rejects tribes’ bid to halt Dakota Access Pipeline; feds plan to shut down protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
As of last week, the tribe’s preferred consultant was still excluded from a survey to investigate damage to its archaeology by construction, notes Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. However, the company allowed its own consultants and a North Dakota congressman along.
In its lawsuit, the tribe says its cultural and archaeological sites have already been destroyed by construction, and more are at risk. It also argues its drinking water and that of millions of people downstream are at risk if the pipeline is routed under the Missouri River.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation agreed with the tribe last spring. Each said the review by the Corps was insufficient, overlooking threats to public safety, water quality and the tribe’s cultural and archaeological sites.
The agencies also agreed the tribe had not been adequately consulted, and that a full environmental-impact statement needs to be done.
The Corps disagreed, and has given its go-ahead to the project, except for a crucial easement needed for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River.
Energy Transfer Partners began construction work last spring before it had all of its permits in hand. Now it is in an urgent push to complete the project by the end of the year in order to meet its contracts with shippers, which expire in January, according to court documents.
The company declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
The tribe was denied an emergency injunction in federal court to stop construction while its litigation is heard.
However, the Obama administration has announced that no construction on Corps land bordering or under the river will go forward until the Corps decides if it wants to reconsider its earlier permits, and initiates a more thorough review.
Meanwhile, the company is continuing construction of the pipeline toward the Missouri River, with protesters encamped in the path.