The operator of the contested Dakota Access pipeline in North and South Dakota has failed in its effort to sidestep a new environmental review that could ultimately shut it down, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
“The justices left in place a lower court’s decision that ordered the federal government to undertake a more intensive environmental study of the pipeline’s route underneath Lake Oahe, which straddles the border of North Dakota and South Dakota,” Reuters reports. “The Dakota Access pipeline has been the subject of a lengthy court battle between tribes seeking its closure and Dallas-based Energy Transfer.”
The project was the focus of extensive protests in 2016, raising the profile of environmental justice issues facing Indigenous communities and spawning a new generation of pipeline protests. President Barack Obama’s administration called for a “voluntary” construction pause along a fiercely-contested, 40-mile section of the pipeline in September 2016, to allow for nation-to-nation negotiations with the Standing Rock Sioux. Donald Trump signed an executive order to “expedite” the project in January 2017.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, have opposed the biggest pipeline out of the Bakken shale basin,” Reuters says. “The tribes draw water from the lake for various purposes, including drinking, and also consider the waters of the Missouri River to be sacred. Their lawyers have said the tribes are worried about a potential oil spill.”
Now, a lawyer for Standing Rock is calling on the Biden White House to shut the pipeline down pending a full safety and environmental review. “DAPL never should have been authorized in the first place, and this administration is failing to address the persistent illegality of this pipeline,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman.
While the case before the Supreme Court was not about whether the pipeline should be taken offline, Energy Transfer maintained the prospect of an environmental review left it “vulnerable to a shutdown”. The Biden administration had urged the court not to hear the case, arguing the company’s concerns were overstated.