A US appeals court has allowed the Dakota Access oil line to stay in operation while legal wrangling continues over the controversial project, overturning a lower court’s ruling handed down last week to shutter the pipeline.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday that Energy Transfer LP – the firm controlling Dakota Access – could keep the 570,000-barrel-per-day pipeline running as it considers a final decision on whether to delay enforcement of the previous court order.
Last week, the US District Court for the District of Columbia called on Energy Transfer to halt use of the line and empty it of petrol within 30 days, arguing a mandatory environmental assessment was never completed before the US Army Corps of Engineers granted an easement for the project to pass under Lake Oahe, which spans the border between North and South Dakota. The move was hailed as a major win by both environmental activists and advocates for Native Americans, who say the line threatens the land, water resources and way of life of certain tribes, such as the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux.
A series of mass protests over the line erupted in 2016, with the largest staged on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where thousands of activists camped out for months in hopes of blocking the initiative. The actions escalated to violence at some points, reportedly seeing police unleash tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators in frigid winter weather.
The Trump administration, for its part, has thrown its full weight behind the pipeline, seeing it as a step toward US energy autonomy and an efficient means to send more oil to refineries across the country. Through the Army Corps of Engineers, the administration challenged the previous court shutdown order earlier this week, joining Energy Transfer in its appeal.
Energy Transfer has maintained that the line meets federal safety requirements and poses little risk to the surrounding area, noting that some nine other pipelines have been laid under Lake Oahe without issue.The company has also argued that Dakota Access would be less intrusive to the Standing Rock reservation than rail cars which transport oil from the same field, insisting the line is a better alternative. Those assertions have been largely dismissed by protesters and activists, however, who say the company is only looking out for its bottom line.
While environmental activists have struck a number of victories this year against similar energy projects around the US, successfully blocking permits for at least three major gas and oil lines, Tuesday’s ruling comes as a setback for those opposed to the line, allowing Dakota Access to stay alive as the drama over its completion plays out in the courtroom.
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