Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines Stymied, BUT SCOTUS Gives Other Projects a Pass

Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen, Wikimedia Commons

A federal judge in Washington, DC ruled yesterday that the Dakota Access Pipeline must shut down and empty all its oil until the government completes an environmental review of the pipeline’s impacts, giving the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies downstream, a huge victory.  Similarly, late in the day, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the order of a district judge that shut down construction of parts of the Keystone XL pipeline so it is also blocked for now.  But, but, but — the Supreme Court agreed, without any explanation, to the Trump Administration’s request to allow construction to continue on all other pipeline projects covered by the same flawed nationwide permit as the Keystone XL pipeline.

Why It Matters:  The Dakota and Keystone XL good news is tempered by the fact that numerous other pipeline projects can go ahead despite their inadequate permit unless they are individually challenged in court and blocked. The “split” decision by the Supreme Court to rule against Keystone but let every other pipeline project go forward will lead to further litigation and uncertainty — ultimately a lose-lose.  Ironically, Dominion Energy shuttered its Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project yesterday arguing that construction was blocked by the very order the Supreme Court threw out today. Despite today’s SCOTUS ruling, it should remain canceled — the ACP has too many environmental justice issues to move ahead.

Dakota Access Woes

The Dakota Access pipeline under the Court’s ruling must be emptied of its dirty Bakken oil by August 5th, and the Corps of Engineers claims that it will take at least a year to complete the environmental analysis the judge ordered.  The pipeline cost $3.8 billion to construct and runs for 1,100 miles from North Dakota to Illinois — so its impacts are likely to be numerous and complex.  President Trump reversed a decision by President Obama and ordered the pipeline to be built despite any environmental issues — it began operation six months later.  The Tribe’s leaders said in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”  The pipeline company, Energy Transfer, said in a statement that the ruling is “not supported by the law or the facts of the case” and vowed to fight it. They claimed the environmental risks are higher as a result of the decision because now the oil will have to travel by rail instead.

Keystone XL Loss For Trump

This is a high profile loss for the President since this is another pipeline project he vowed in 2016 to complete.  The Keystone XL expansion project is part of an existing, larger pipeline system owned by TransCanada Corporation that transports crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, east into Manitoba, Canada, and then down to Texas, according to CNN.  The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would complete the entire system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota to connect up with the currently operating pipeline.  President Obama in 2015 vetoed legislation mandating the construction of the XL portion of the pipeline and his administration later rejected a permit request made by TransCanada to build it.  The Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota sprung a major leak in 2017, a total of 210,000 gallons of oil spilled in South Dakota.  But the fact that other pipeline projects can proceed until challenged and ordered to stop is a blow for environmental groups because the nationwide permit on which they are all based is fundamentally flawed.

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