A controversial North Dakota oil pipeline project cleared a significant hurdle this week and could set the stage for additional protests and court battles.
Acting secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed Congress on Tuesday that the Army approved construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and was prepared to support an easement to route the pipeline under a disputed waterway, The New York Times reports.
The 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline linking North Dakota's oilfields with a storage hub in southern Illinois is nearly completed and previously secured approval and permits from regulators.
Pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners, however, sought an easement from the Army Corps of Engineers that drew fierce opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last year. The tribe argued that routing the pipeline under Lake Oahe — a reservoir on the Missouri River — would cross sacred lands and jeopardize its water supply.
The controversy sparked massive protests in North Dakota last year, and the Army declined to issue the easement in early December during the waning weeks of the Obama administration.
President Donald Trump, however, last month directed the Army to review and approve Dakota Access "in an expedited manner ... to the extent permitted by law and as warranted.”
Formal approval of the easement is expected Wednesday and would allow Energy Transfer Partners to immediately begin construction — though it's not clear when work would begin.
Supporters of the pipeline praised the decision while tribal leaders and environmental advocates called for protests. Standing Rock officials reiterated their vow to fight the decision in court.
“As native peoples, we have been knocked down again,” said Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault II, according to the Times. “But we will get back up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact.”