Balking at an earlier decision by the Army Corps of Engineers, Energy Transfer Partners — the company responsible for constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline — says the denial of an easement necessary to drill under the Missouri River is of no consequence for its plans to complete the project.
According to a statement from Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, which is acquiring ETP in a merger:
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”
In short, ETP will complete the Dakota Access Pipeline — no matter what the federal government says.
Earlier on Sunday, celebrations erupted over the Army Corps’ announcement the permitting necessary for the Dakota Access Pipeline to pass beneath the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe reservoir would not be granted — a decision some perceived would have direct implications for the future of the project.
Leery of such official decisions after a string of disappointments, however, many water protectors immediately questioned whether ETP CEO Kelcy Warren had contingency plans to ensure completion of the pipeline. Considering the lengths ETP has undertaken with the Dakota Access Pipeline — even justifying abhorrently brutal policing against unarmed protectors — news the project will proceed unhindered hardly came as a shock. ETP states:
“In spite of consistently stating at every turn that the permit for the crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe granted in July 2016, comported with all legal requirements, including the use of an environmental assessment, rather than an environmental impact statement, the Army Corps now seeks to engage in additional review and analysis of alternative locations for the pipeline.
“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
Technically speaking, ETP did perhaps follow the letter of the law — and that fact both doesn’t sit well with Indigenous water protectors who see the U.S. government once again acting to exploit Native peoples on land never officially ceded, but usurped, in the breaking of several treaties.
Indeed, to attain the desired path for Dakota Access, Energy Transfer Partners was able to take land from reluctant private property owners through eminent domain. Most controversy over the pipeline centers on the contextually-striking fight by Native Americans to preserve the integrity of their drinking water supply in North Dakota — but the fight to halt Dakota Access also grips South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.
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Unconfirmed reports claim ETP has opted to pay $50,000 per day in fines for violating the Army Corps decision rather than sidelining the project for months while awaiting conclusions of an environmental impact statement.
Politicians were quick to denounce the decision to deny the easement, and — like Energy Transfer Partners — deemed the choice starkly political. North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer excoriated the Army Corps’ announcement, asserting,
“I hoped even a lawless president wouldn’t continue to ignore the rule of law. However, it was becoming increasingly clear he was punting this issue down the road. Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. Roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms and water lines will be very difficult, if not impossible, to build when criminal behavior is rewarded this way. In my conversation with Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy today, she was unable to give any legal reasons for the decision and could not answer any questions about rerouting the pipeline. I’m encouraged we will restore law and order next month when we get a President who will not thumb his nose at the rule of law. I feel badly for the Corps of Engineers because of the diligent work it did on this project, only to have their Commander-in-Chief throw them under the bus. But he’s been doing that to the military for eight years, so why not one more time on his way out the door.”
Others quickly joined the tirade.
“It’s long past time that a decision is made on the easement going under Lake Oahe. This administration’s delay in taking action — after I’ve pushed the White House, Army Corps, and other federal agencies for months to make a decision — means that today’s move doesn’t actually bring finality to the project. The pipeline still remains in limbo. The incoming administration already stated its support for the project and the courts have already stated twice that it appeared the Corps followed the required process in considering the permit,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND) in a statement.
“For the next month and a half, nothing about this project will change. For the immediate future, the safety of residents, protesters, law enforcement, and workers remains my top priority as it should for everyone involved. As some of the protesters have become increasingly violent and unlawful, and as North Dakota’s winter has already arrived — with a blizzard raging last week through the area where protesters are located — I’m hoping now that protesters will act responsibly to avoid endangering their health and safety, and move off of the Corps land north of the Cannonball River.”
Heitkamp, incidentally, met with President-Elect Donald Trump last week, to the delight of Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz, who noted:
“I sincerely hope Senator Heitkamp is able to make a direct plea to the new Administration for the help and resources from the federal government that are desperately needed to assist local law enforcement in their efforts to provide public safety, and to expedite a decision on the final easement for the Dakota Access pipeline so that our citizens may return to their normal lives. We have seen nothing but foot-dragging and unhelpful directives from the Obama administration. I trust Senator Heitkamp will use her meeting and her influence to ensure that help is on the way for the people of North Dakota when the President-Elect is sworn in on January 20th.”
Questions also swirled concerning the nine-state, multiple agency coalition of law enforcement led by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, which has aggressively and barbarously policed the unarmed water protectors for months, and if taxpayer funding could possibly be justified if ETP violates the easement decision.
Standing Rock water protectors still reeling from Sunday’s fleeting victory against the pipeline now ironically face their own decisions about an eviction notice from the Army Corps of Engineers and must choose whether or not to vacate several camps north of the Cannonball River. Reports from the camps say although a few people have indeed vacated the area, thousands more have arrived to support the Standing Rock Sioux in just the past few days — including more than 5,000 veterans.
With water protectors vowing to stay camped at Standing Rock until the Dakota Access Pipeline is halted for good, and Energy Transfer Partners openly dismissing the Army Corps of Engineers decision, a confluence of polemic circumstances has crafted a powder keg near the Missouri River.