In the wake of a federal court’s decision Friday to pause construction on part of the Dakota Access pipeline, observers are stressing that the order is only temporary.
The oil pipeline cannot move forward for now within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, a contested section of the route near tribal land in North Dakota. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which issued the order late Friday, could reopen the area as soon as this week.
While Dakota Access challengers cheered the decision, many emphasized that it was merely a short-term measure.
"The Tribe appreciates this brief reprieve from pipeline construction and will continue to oppose this project, which will severely jeopardize its water and cultural resources," the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is leading opposition, said in a statement over the weekend. "We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline."
The 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline would carry as much as 570,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude through North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The 20-mile area west of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, is said by tribal representatives to contain at least one burial ground.
The court’s order is an administrative injunction, designed to keep construction at bay while the three-judge panel considers the tribe’s request for an emergency injunction (Greenwire, Sept. 16).
An emergency measure, if granted, would stay in place while the panel reviews a lower court’s recent decision to reject the Sioux’s request to freeze work on the length of the pipeline.
In its short order, the court noted that the decision "should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."
The panel included Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith, Republican appointees, and Judge Nina Pillard, a Democratic appointee. The order noted that Brown would not have granted the temporary injunction.
Pipeline challengers praised the decision but urged their ranks not to pull back on opposition efforts.
"This is a major victory but we must remain vigilant in the fight to protect our land, water and people," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Twitter.
Bold Alliance President Jane Kleeb, who led opposition against the scuttled Keystone XL pipeline and rallied activists against Dakota Access, urged supporters to focus on the broader battle over pipeline reform.
"The current patchwork quilt of national and state laws is not working for anyone," she said in an email. "Advocates continue to stand up for water, property rights, climate and Sovereign rights against these risky and unnecessary pipelines."
Lake Oahe and its shorelines, meanwhile, remain off-limits to construction while the Army Corps of Engineers decides whether to grant an easement there — a decision that could come in the next few weeks (E&ENews PM, Sept. 16).
ClearView Energy Partners analyst Christine Tezak said the pipeline’s prospects hinge on the administration’s actions — not the court’s.
"The visibility on the construction timeline remains clouded by the incremental federal agency review, a review which is not based on any formal process deadlines or known decision parameters," she said, adding, "which means it doesn’t matter what happens in court."
Dakota Access backers say they remain confident that the project will ultimately be allowed to move forward.
"Although disappointing, we respect the process and the court’s decision to issue this temporary injunction so it can spend time considering the facts of the case," Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, or the MAIN Coalition, said Friday.
Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.