Dakota Access Pipeline Protests Are Over, For Now

The Army Corps of Engineers announced it will not issue an easement to complete the pipeline, but the incoming administration could change course

Oceti Sakowin Camp
Protestors at the Oceti Sakowin Camp Oceti Sakowin Camp

Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not approve an 1,100-foot easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to go under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe. Instead, in a statement, it said that after continued discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux and learning about its concerns of possible water contamination and the violation of treaty rights, the Army Corps would explore alternate routes. It will also conduct a full scale Environmental Impact Statement, which could take months or years to complete.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

The move is expected to stall construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline, ending the months-long protest and clashes between police and Energy Transfer Partners, the company in charge of the DAPL, and Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and activists, Jack Healy and Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times report. 

While the pipeline has received all the necessary permissions and permits to complete its route from North Dakota to Illinois, including state and federal permission to place pipe under the lake, the Corps of Engineers had not officially signed off on the easement to permit the pipe under a Missouri River reservoir owned by the Corps.

Central to the Standing Rock Sioux's legal dispute has been whether the Dakota Access pipeline met the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, both of which require the government to take into account the cultural significance and environmental impact of an agency's decision, Robinson Meyer reports for The Atlantic.

Nathan Rott and Eyder Peralta at NPR report that the hundreds of protestors at the makeshift anti-DAPL camp on the banks of the Cannonball River were elated to hear the news. “Our prayers have been answered,” National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said. “This isn't over, but it is enormously good news. All tribal peoples have prayed from the beginning for a peaceful solution, and this puts us back on track.” 

Kris Maher and Will Connors at The Wall Street Journal point out that the jubilation among protestors may be short-lived. Though the incoming Trump administration has not commented directly on how they will handle DAPL, Trump has shown support for the pipeline in the past. The new president could direct the Secretary of the Army to reinstate the permit or could issue and executive order allowing the pipeline to continue. Matthew Daly at the Associated Press recently reported that Trump owns stock in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the pipeline. At this time it is not certain whether he will liquidate his stock holdings, pass them to a blind trust, or transfer them to his children to manage before taking office.

Critics of the Army Corps decision think that it is only a temporary setback. “Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left,” Craig Stevens, spokesperson for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now says in a statement.

Healy and Fandos report that the decision allows the protestors, many of whom are living in tepees, yurts, tents and other temporary structures, to go home and avoid the worst of the North Dakota winter. But some in the camp have vowed to stay, saying that there are too many variables and potential setbacks, and that the fight against the pipeline is not over.

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