- By Darren Thompson
Over three years after a federal court ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct a full environmental impact review of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released on September 8, 2023.
The Dakota Access Pipeline was the impetus for the resistance at Standing Rock that lasted from April 2016 to March 2017 where tens of thousands of tribal citizens from all over Indian Country and environmentalists protested. The pipeline was built through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s unceded treaty lands, less than a half mile upstream of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and beneath the Missouri River.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) Chairwoman Janet Alkire said the draft EIS should be invalidated and the Corps should “start from scratch” a new environmental review. The tribe is opposed to the firm that the Corps hired to conduct the environmental review that has strong ties to the American Petroleum industry. Alkire said the Corps should engage with an unbiased firm.
In its press release, the SRST said that USACE tasked Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was preparing the EIS. “ERM is a member of the National Petroleum Institute, which submitted in favor of DAPL and against Standing Rock,” the SRST said in a statement. “The Tribe sees this as a clear conflict of interest.”
“Today, DAPL presents a clear and enduring threat to delicate ecosystems and Standing Rock’s primary source of freshwater,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in a press release on Friday, Sept. 8. “DAPL’s parent company, Energy Transfer, has an abysmal safety track record. It's responsible for numerous spills and toxic chemical releases, and it has been cited and fined tens of millions of dollars for a host of callous public safety violations.”
During the Standing Rock resistance, hundreds of people were targeted and arrested by local law enforcement for demonstrating against the building of the project. Local law enforcement had official support from dozens of other law enforcement agencies throughout the country. North Dakota spent upwards of $40 million in law enforcement costs during the protests, with some costs reimbursed by the Dakota Access Pipeline LLC, but other costs have been allocated from legislation in North Dakota.
On December 4, 2016, the USACE announced it would not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, or the portion of the Missouri River upstream from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, and would undertake an EIS to look at possible alternative routes.
When former President Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, he issued a memorandum and an executive order requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its consideration of the project’s application for an easement for construction. As a result, USACE withdrew its previous order to call for a new environmental study on the portion where the pipeline would cross under the Missouri River.
When the easement was halted in 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issued a statement saying on Dec. 4, 2016, “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.”
The pipeline was completed in April 2017, with oil being delivered through the pipeline in May 2017. Then, the SRST brought a lawsuit against DAPL, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe saying that there should have been a more thorough environmental review for the 2 mile pipeline section that would cross under Lake Oahe. The EIS issued in Sept. 2015 was The Supreme Court later agreed with the lower court’s decision and declined to hear Dakota Access Pipeline’s appeal in February 2022, but the pipeline continues to operate.
Since then, the company has tried to expand operations of the pipeline, but have had challenges by various entities on the pipeline’s route, citing a review of the company’s safety record. Because of the Court of Appeals decision, a new draft EIS has been mandated by the court.
The Tribe said in a statement that the draft EIS has been routinely delayed, the DAPL continues to operate illegally without a valid federal easement to cross the river.
“We’re furious that the Army Corps has addressed none of our major concerns during the review process,” said SRST Chairman Janet Alkire in a press release. “The pipeline is an imminent threat to the Missouri River, sensitive habitat and sacred burial sites along the riverbank. The oil company’s emergency response plans are inadequate, its safety track record is horrendous, and there’s been a stunning lack of transparency with Standing Rock throughout the environmental review process, including inaccurate characterizations of tribal consultation.”
The Tribe also said that the draft EIS ignores “virtually every major concern voiced by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe” and fails to include what the Tribe is calling a poor safety record.
The USACE is currently undertaking the review process and considering modifications to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to double the current flow-rate of oil through the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is advocating for the public to submit comments on the draft EIS for the Dakota Access Pipeline on its website, at https://standingrock.org/dapl-eis/. The Tribe is asking the public to demand that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers start the new EIS from the beginning, and shut the pipeline down while it does so.
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