A federal judge deciding whether to shut down the four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline while more environmental review is done is allowing national energy and manufacturing trade groups to have a say.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, in Washington, D.C., granted the request just days before Monday's final deadline for all parties involved in the legal dispute to weigh in with arguments.
The Standing Rock Sioux and three other American Indian tribes in the Dakotas have been fighting the pipeline for more than a year, arguing that the $3.8 billion project built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners threatens cultural sites and tribal water supplies. The company disputes that and maintains the pipeline is safe.
After months of delays, it began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois on June 1. However, Boasberg later that month ordered the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, to further review the pipeline's impact on the Standing Rock tribe. The judge is deciding whether to shut down the pipeline until the completion of the work, which is expected to take several more months.
Groups including the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Association of Oil Pipe Lines, national Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers asked to submit their stance on the matter. They maintained in court documents that ceasing pipeline operations "would have serious adverse economic impacts throughout the oil industry and local and regional economies."
Boasberg gave his approval in a one-sentence statement without providing details on his reasoning. Standing Rock attorney Jan Hasselman on Monday said the tribe doesn't object because "everybody who wants to be heard should be heard."
Boasberg in June approved a schedule for arguments that set Monday as the final deadline. His ruling on a potential shutdown could come any time after that.
While Energy Transfer Partners continues defending the project in court, it also is dealing with state government allegations in North Dakota that it improperly reported the discovery of American Indian artifacts during construction.
North Dakota regulators two weeks ago offered a settlement under which the company would make a $15,000 "contribution" and wouldn't have to admit fault. Public Service Commission members said it was an effort to end the drawn-out dispute over whether the company should be fined.
The company responded to the offer by last Thursday's deadline but neither it nor the state initially disclosed what the answer was.
The commission met privately with attorneys Monday on the response and took no public action afterward. However, commission attorney Zachary Pelham told reporters that the company offered a counterproposal that includes potentially also resolving a state investigation into whether crews removed too many trees and improperly handled some removed soil while laying pipe in the state. A fine also is possible in that case. Attorneys for the two sides will continue to negotiate.
(Source: Associated Press)