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Judge Orders Shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline Months After Ruling U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Violated the Law

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline emptied of oil and shut down into 2021 while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers produces an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In a Monday decision, Judge James E. Boasberg said he was “mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause,” but that “the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the the thirteen months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take.”

The order follows Judge Boasberg’s March decision that the Corps was required to conduct a full environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline, nearly three years after it began carrying oil.

“Following multiple twists and turns in this long-running litigation, this Court recently found that Defendant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it granted an easement to Defendant-Intervenor Dakota Access, LLC to construct and operate a segment of that crude-oil pipeline running beneath the lake,” Judge Boasberg wrote on Monday.

Fearing environmental consequences—amid sometimes violent protests—the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and other plaintiffs sought to enjoin the Corps in 2016 from allowing construction and operation of the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir behind a dam on the Missouri River that stretches between North and South Dakota.

According to Judge Boasberg’s opinion, while Standing Rock and Cheyenne River were initially unsuccessful in obtaining preliminary injunctions halting the pipeline, the Corps announced it would suspend construction pending reconsideration of its statutory obligations under NEPA.

“A few months later, however, following the change of administration in January 2017 and a presidential memorandum urging acceleration of the project, the Corps again reconsidered and decided to move forward,” the opinion said.

“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect. It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to DAPL, the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states,” Boasberg wrote. “Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ [National Environmental Policy Act] 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 Partners, the pipeline parent company, said in a press release that it would seek a stay from Judge Boasberg and pursue an expedited appeal if Boasberg refused to delay the order. The company said it was “confident that once the law and full record are fully considered Dakota Access Pipeline will not be shut down and that oil will continue to flow.”

[Photo via Andrew Burton/Getty Images]

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