Federal Appeals Court Reverses Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Order

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

A federal appeals court on Aug. 5 reversed a judge’s order to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline while the U.S. government conducts an in-depth environmental impact review.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday ruled in favor of Energy Transfer, parent company of the underground oil pipeline, saying a lower-court judge “did not make the findings necessary for injunctive relief.”

However, a motion filed by the company to block the full environmental review was declined by the appellate court. It said Energy Transfer had “failed to make a strong showing of likely success.”

The ruling follows a July 6 order from U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg to shut down and empty the Dakota Access Pipeline by Aug. 5 while the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a more extensive environmental review than the one that allowed the pipeline to start moving oil near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation three years ago. Such a review could take more than a year.

The court had previously ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had violated federal environmental law when it granted a permit for an easement to construct a segment of the 1,172-mile pipeline beneath Lake Oahe, a large reservoir behind a dam on the Missouri River.

Following the order, the pipeline owners, Dakota Access—controlled by Energy Transfer—filed an emergency motion to temporarily stay Boasberg’s order as well as a notice to appeal the decision to the circuit court.

“Appellants have failed to make a strong showing of likely success on their claims that the district court erred in directing the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement,” the judges said Wednesday.

EarthJustice attorney Jan Hasselman, representing Standing Rock and other tribes who have signed onto the lawsuit, said the appeals court ruling Thursday was not a setback.

“There is more to like than dislike in this ruling,” he said. “There will be a review and a new permit during the next administration.”

He added that the ruling however leaves the pipeline “operating illegally” since it is continuing to transport oil although its permit has been vacated.

Mike Faith, chairman of Standing Rock, which says the pipeline passes through its ancestral lands, said in a statement that the tribe is not “giving up this fight.”

It first brought a lawsuit against the federal government in 2016 in an attempt to block the construction. The tribe is worried that the construction and possible oil leaks would lead to the destruction of its sacred sites and pollute its land and water.

“As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”

The pipeline owners and its supporters argue that shutting the pipeline down would have serious repercussions for the North Dakota oil industry. They say there is currently no viable alternative method to transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil that the Dakota Access Pipeline is able to carry each day, and that this would drive up prices of the oil.

They also say the shutdown would also have a “reverberating effect” on North Dakota’s economy, which heavily relies on oil and gas taxes.

Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the ruling “allows this important pipeline to continue to operate” and that the company looks forward to “continuing to work through the legal process to resolve all matters related to this pipeline.”

Janita Kan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.