The surprising victory by Native American and environmental groups in September to delay the Dakota Access Pipeline may turn out to be short-lived, after Donald Trump’s unexpected win in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump backs measures to speed energy industry development and upgrade the country’s oil and gas infrastructure. He has not commented specifically on the $3.7 billion Dakota Access line but has said he would seek to revive another controversial pipeline, the Keystone XL line. That project would pump oil from Canada through Nebraska and was rejected in 2014 by the Obama Administration.
The 1,172-mile (1,885 km) line was planned to run from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to Illinois, but protests from environmental activists and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota galvanized the Obama Administration to delay construction to ensure Native American concerns about the line’s route were properly addressed.
One day after Trump’s apparent victory, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said that the results show “that we as a country have so much work to do.” He did not mention Trump in his statement to Reuters, instead saying President Barack Obama could still halt the pipeline.
“We must strengthen our resolve to protect the water, pray together for understanding, and pour our hearts and minds into the future of all our children,” he said.
At this moment, it is not clear whether Dakota Access would be rerouted or piped under the sensitive watershed, which the tribe considers sacred.
Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a Trump energy advisor, said he expects the Obama administration to approve the permit because the federal government is “out of legal reasons” not to allow the line to proceed, saying he did not think Trump “would have to weigh in with an opinion on this.”
Obama’s move was considered unprecedented by some in the industry, particularly as it had already passed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review.
“We’re especially hopeful that the pipeline approval process will be allowed to work without political interferences. We saw both Keystone XL and DAPL, which passed their NEPA review, get blocked for unrelated political reasons,” said John Stoody, vice president of government and public relations for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.
TRUMP IS “CLIMATE THREAT”
Trump carried the state of North Dakota by a wide margin, though his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, won Sioux County, which lies entirely within the Standing Rock reservation.
Environmental groups said they would continue to support the tribe, and looked to Obama to take any action he can to kill the pipeline.
“There is no doubt that Donald Trump poses an immediate threat to our climate and will try to fast track this and other fossil fuel projects across the country,” Greenpeace spokesperson Lilian Molina, said in a statement.
“This is all the more reason for President Obama to step in immediately to stop the pipeline once and for all.”
Trump’s victory makes the completion of the pipeline more likely, analysts said. Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the pipeline, said Tuesday that it had completed construction to the edge of Lake Oahe, the location of the federal land where regulators delayed construction to review permitting.
Phillips 66, a 25 percent owner of the line, said 85 percent of the line is complete. Dennis Nuss, company spokesman, said Wednesday they expect operations to begin in the first quarter of 2017.
“I’ve always thought Dakota Access was going to get built. It’s a critical infrastructure project. Hopefully Obama will approve it before he leaves office, but otherwise I do expect Trump to approve it,” said Ron Ness, head of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry trade group.
Last week, Obama said that the U.S. government was looking for ways to move the line. Banks financing the line have been feeling the pressure from activists; Citigroup Inc on Tuesday said it had discussed concerns with Energy Transfer about reaching a resolution with the Standing Rock Sioux.
Regarding a move of the line, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that they do not believe the pipeline should be built, but that “we support the Standing Rock Sioux and we agree that their concern to protect water supply is paramount.”
Trump has said he would ask TransCanada Corp, the principal owner of Keystone XL, to renew its application for the pipeline. TransCanada said Wednesday it is committed to building the project. “We are evaluating ways to engage the new administration on the benefits, the jobs and the tax revenues this project brings to the table,” a spokesman said.
(Reporting By Ernie Scheyder and Valerie Volcovici,; additional reporting by Liz Hampton; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Simon Webb and Andrew Hay)