The United States Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe.
Instead, the corps will undertake an environmental impact procedure to look at possible alternative routes.
The corporations in charge of the project say, however, that nothing the US administration has now done changes previous court decisions that gave the pipeline project the go-ahead. The corporations say they expect to complete the pipeline without any rerouting.
The army corps’ decision is nevertheless a major victory for the “water protectors” and there were victory dances and fireworks at the Oceti Sakowin camp last night (Sunday).
Thousands of people have flocked to support the Dakota pipeline protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Police have shot at demonstrators with rubber bullets and used tear gas, pepper sprays, and sound and water cannons, but the Sioux tribe continues to advocate a peaceful and spiritual approach in its combat.
The Sioux tribe says the federal government failed to consult it before approving the route of the pipeline, which, the tribe says, would threaten cultural heritage sites and drinking water supplies from the Missouri River. Sioux tribe members say the pipeline will run through sacred burial sites.
Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II said yesterday: “We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”
He added: “We are deeply appreciative that the Obama Administration took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns.
“In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship, and we will be forever grateful.”
Archambault II (pictured left) thanked the tribal youth who initiated the movement against the pipeline, and everyone who has supported the cause.
“We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need.”
The decision not to approve the final easement for the pipeline project was announced by the army’s assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, who said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.
On November 14 this year, she announced that her department was delaying the decision on the easement, which would be on land under army control, so as to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation lies half a mile south of the proposed crossing.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
The US Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, also released a statement in support of the army corps’ decision. She said that it was in line with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“The thoughtful approach established by the army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts, as envisioned by the NEPA,” Jewell said.
“The Army’s announcement underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as nation-to-nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the Environmental Impact Statement going forward.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who joined military veterans at Standing Rock on Sunday, tweeted: “Today we have shown the power of people’s voices standing together to protect our water. #WaterIsLife. We cannot live without it. #NoDAPL.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline would stretch for 1,172 miles and would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to a crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois.
According to current projections, the pipeline would transport about 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels.
There are concerns that yesterday’s victory could still be overturned, not least as the president-elect Donald Trump is firmly in favour of the pipeline.
“We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” the lead organiser for the Indigenous Environmental Network, Dallas Goldtooth, said in a statement.
“More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
The corporations in charge of the pipeline project, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, said in a statement that they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe”.
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