A U.S. judge on Tuesday ruled against native tribes seeking to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from moving forward on the basis that it would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies, as legal options for opponents of the project narrow.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in a written ruling, rejected the Cheyenne River Sioux's request for an injunction to withdraw permission issued by the Army Corps for the last link of the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
Energy Transfer Partners LP is building the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline to move crude from the Northern Plains to the Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico.
The denial of the injunction represents yet another setback to the Native American tribes – the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux – that have been leading the charge against the line, which runs adjacent to tribal territory in southern North Dakota.
The Cheyenne River Sioux had argued that the pipeline would render water it uses for religious ceremonies spiritually impure even if the pipeline goes under the lake.
The tribes won a reprieve from the Democratic Obama administration in early December, but the victory was short-lived as Republican President Donald Trump signed an executive order days after taking office on Jan. 20 that smoothed the path for the last permit needed.
The company needed only to cross beneath Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to connect a final 1,100-foot (335-meter) gap in the 1,170-mile (1,885-km) pipeline, which will move oil from the Bakken shale formation to a terminus in Illinois.
Energy Transfer Partners said in a filing late Monday that it plans to start pumping oil through a section of the line under the Missouri River by the week of March 13.
Public opposition drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains last year, including high-profile political and celebrity supporters, along with veterans’ groups upset by the use of force by law enforcement.
After the legal victory in December, Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II asked protesters to leave; the primary protest camp on federal land was evacuated by mid-February, though substantial cleanup remains. The last protesters burned structures as they left the camp.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and David Gaffen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)