The Army Corps of Engineers has told Dakota Access they have to wait to finish their pipeline. Working on a Sunday, Corps Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said the Corps will not approve an easement to lay the Bakken oil pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Missouri–Cannonball confluence.
The decision comes as hundreds, possibly thousands of veterans were arriving to swell the ranks of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other protestors encamped along the river since spring to oppose Dakota Access and one day before the soft deadline the Corps had given protestors to vacate Corps land near the pipeline construction route.
The decision does not cancel the pipeline; it only delays it, perhaps by months, as the Corps says it plans to work with Energy Transfer Partners to “explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing”… routes which inevitably must cross the Missouri River somewhere in North Dakota and thus pose the same threat to water quality downstream on Standing Rock as the now-nixed Cannonball crossing.
However, this delay does push completion of the pipeline past January 1. Back in August, when Dakota Access officials were fighting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to block the pipeline, company VP Joey Mahmoud made the following argument in court:
In connection with its long-term transportation contracts with 9 committed shippers, Dakota Access has committed to complete, test and have DAPL in service by January 1, 2017. The long-term transportation contracts give shippers a right to terminate their commitments if DAPL is not in full service per the contract deadline. Meanwhile, faced with an uncertain delay, shippers would need to determine alternative sources for secure, reliable transportation of crude oil supplies to the refineries. These costs cannot be recovered and loss of shippers to the project could effectively result in project cancellation [emphasis mine; Joey Mahmoud, Declaration in Support of Dakota Access, LLP’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Case No. 1:16-CV-01534 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, August 18, 2016. paragraph 36; quoted in Cathy Kunkel and Clark Williams-Derry, “The High-Risk Financing Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline: A Potential Stranded Asset in the Bakken Region of North Dakota,” Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, 2016.11.16].
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe feels they have won. Expressing gratitude to the Obama Administration for “tremendous courage” and “a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship,” Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II says his people “look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones.”
The Corps decision means the protestors can go home for a bit; if the shippers bail on their contracts, those protestors won’t need to return… at least not until Energy Transfer Partners or an eager Bakken buyer decides to make a play for connecting and filling the 99% of the pipe that is already in the ground.