AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
A ruling by a judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that ordered the vacating of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) easement for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River, as well as the shutdown of the pipeline and removing all of its oil by Aug. 5, 2020, is a crushing blow to North Dakota’s oil industry.
The ruling is a big win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and three other Sioux tribes in the Dakotas, who have spent the last four years fighting the pipeline based on their concern of possible environmental damage that could result from an oil leak into Lake Oahe. But the ruling by Judge Boasberg, if upheld, will be a devastating blow to North Dakota’s economy and the nation’s energy independence.
Currently, DAPL carries approximately 40 percent of the state’s Bakken oil, roughly 570,000 barrels per day, to market along a 1,200 mile route from North Dakota to Illinois. While oil can still be moved to market by either railcar or truck, as well as other pipelines, the Dakota Access Pipeline is the most economical and one of the safest methods to transport this commodity.
What is interesting about last week’s ruling is that in 2017 Boasberg ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers largely complied with environmental law when permitting the pipeline but ordered more review. He said the agency didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.
After completing more than a year of additional study of the pipeline, in 2018, the Corps reaffirmed its earlier decision that the pipeline posed no significant environmental threats.
So two years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the project did not pose any threats, the easement was granted. Energy Transfer, the owner of the pipeline, invested $3.78 billion to build the 1,200-mile pipeline.
Did Boasberg overstep his authority in now demanding that the pipeline be shut down until a full Environmental Impact Statement is done on the pipeline crossing of the Missouri River? The answer to that question is probably yes. But finding out the answer to that question could be a lengthy court battle.
Did the judge fully understand the financial consequences of his decision to not only Energy Transfer, but to the oil companies that rely on the Dakota Access Pipeline to move their oil to market or to the state of North Dakota? And did he consider the millions of Americans who rely on North Dakota oil for their businesses or personal use? The answer to that question is he did not.
Obviously, Energy Transfer and the state of North Dakota will be taking Boasberg’s ruling to a higher court. But until a final decision is rendered either at an appeals court or by the Supreme Court, at the least the Dakota Access Pipeline needs to continue to be able to operate as it was designed to do.