The owner of the Dakota Access pipeline has dodged an order to immediately shut down operations, but will still have to undergo a full environmental review, after an appeal court overturned a judge’s order in early July that the line must cease operations within 30 days.
“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with pipeline owner Energy Transfer to keep the oil flowing, saying a lower court judge ‘did not make the findings necessary for injunctive relief,’” The Associated Press reports. “But the appellate court declined to grant Energy Transfer’s motion to block the environmental review, saying the company had ‘failed to make a strong showing of likely success’” in avoiding the process.
A full environmental impact study could take at least 13 months, the Bismarck Tribune writes.
“There is more to like than dislike in this ruling,” said Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes opposing the pipeline. “There will be a review and a new permit during the next administration.”
“The pipeline doesn’t shut down today, but the fight continues,” he added, and “Dakota Access remains in a precarious situation.”
“As the environmental review process gets under way in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate,” added Standing Rock Tribe Chair Mike Faith.
Following the July 6 ruling by District Court Judge James Boasberg, there was some question about whether Energy Transfer Partners would actually follow instructions. The Dallas-based pipeliner said it had no immediate plans to shut down the line, and continued accepting orders for shipments beyond the August 5 deadline.
“We are not shutting in the line,” spokesperson Vicki Granado said at the time, adding that “we believe [the judge] exceeded his authority and does not have the jurisdiction to shut down the pipeline or stop the flow of crude oil.”
The company later clarified it did not plan to defy Boasberg’s order, but said it would need 86 to 101 days to empty the pipeline and keep it in condition for future use. That assessment was part of an unsuccessful bid last month to persuade the judge to rescind the initial ruling.
The company made the same argument to the appeal court, AP says, estimating that it would cost US$24 million to empty and preserve the pipeline and $67.5 million per year to keep it out of operation. When similar numbers first surfaced last month, Hasselman said the company “has a history of wild exaggeration,” and in this case, “we think the claims are overblown”.
Dakota Access backers in North Dakota shale country “largely welcomed the ruling, in part because it removes the imminent threat of a potential shutdown,” the Tribune writes. “Dakota Access transports up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken to a shipping hub in Illinois. That amounts to about half the state’s estimated daily oil output, prompting concerns across North Dakota about the economic fallout for the oil industry and state revenues should the pipeline have to stop operating.”
“Today’s ruling allows for continued safe pipeline operations, protecting our communities and limiting further disruption to our state’s economy during an already challenging time amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.