Company: Army Corps' latest Dakota Access pipeline delay purely political

Dakota Access oil pipeline protest
People hold banners in front of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest while others speak in the background on Sept. 9 in Bismarck, N.D.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News file

The Army Corps of Engineers' decision to further delay construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline so that it can continue studying the issue and gather more input from the American Indian tribe that opposes it is purely political, according to the company behind the project.

The Corps said Monday that it wants to further discuss the pipeline with the Standing Rock Sioux before it decides whether to allow it to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota. The $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline would skirt the tribe's reservation, and the tribe says it would endanger its drinking water and cultural sites.

The Corps in July granted Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners the permits needed for the project, but it said in September that further analysis was warranted, given the tribe's concerns. Its announcement Monday came amid speculation that federal officials were on the brink of approving the crossing. The project is mostly complete aside from that stretch, and ETP last week began preparing equipment to bore under the river.

"This action is motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given," the company's CEO, Kelcy Warren, said in a statement. "To propose, as the Corps now does, to further delay this pipeline and to engage in what can only be described as a sham process sends a frightening message about the rule of law."

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ETP disputes that the pipeline would endanger the tribe and Warren noted that Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy had informed company officials and Archambault that the Corps' previous decisions "comported with legal requirements." ETP contends that the Corps has no legal justification for the delay and said the company will "pursue its legal rights."

Standing Rock Chair Dave Archambault said the Corps' decision indicates that months of protests against the project are succeeding. The protests have drawn supporters from around the world, and there have been nearly 470 arrests since August.

"Millions of people have literally and spiritually stood with us at Standing Rock. And for this, you have our deepest thanks and gratitude," Archambault said. "The harmful and dehumanizing tactics by the state of North Dakota and corporate bullies did not go unnoticed because of you. Not all of our prayers were answered, but this time, they were heard."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is an environmental attorney and president of the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, which seeks to protect watersheds worldwide, was expected to join the tribe's protest on Tuesday. Activists were also calling for demonstrations at Army Corps of Engineers offices and the offices of the banks financing the pipeline construction.