NEW YORK (Reuters) -The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday said it will allow Energy Transfer LP’s Dakota Access oil pipeline to keep running without a federal permit, frustrating activists who wanted the line shut after a key environmental permit was scrapped last year.
The pipeline has been the flashpoint for a years-long legal battle between Energy Transfer and several Native American tribes who say it could contaminate drinking water supplies.
Native tribes led by the Standing Rock Sioux won a victory last year when Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia vacated a federal permit allowing the line to run under Lake Oahe and ordered a new environmental review.
The Corps could have shut DAPL during its review process, but instead deferred to the court on Friday. Boasberg gave the pipeline’s operator until April 19 to make its case for keeping the line flowing before he issues a ruling.
Environmental activists and tribal representatives decried what they called the latest in a series of decisions that violate the rights of Native Americans.
“It’s the continuation of a terrible history that we believed was going to change,” Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, told the court. “So we are really disappointed to hear this news from the Army Corps.”
Hasselman said at a press conference following the hearing that he and the Standing Rock Sioux would continue to appeal to the Army Corps and the court to order the line shut while an environmental impact statement (EIS) is produced. He expected a decision by the court on the tribes’ request for a shutdown order sometime in May.
The Army Corps is expected to produce an EIS by March of 2022, said Corps attorney Ben Schifman.
“The Corps is proceeding with the EIS process … but at this time has not taken any additional action,” Schifman said.
DAPL is the biggest pipeline transporting crude out of North Dakota, shipping up to 570,000 barrels of North Dakota’s crude production daily.
Dakota Access proponents say a shutdown would increase reliance on crowded rail lines and smaller pipelines and hamper transport of crude from the Bakken region, where more than 1 million barrels are produced daily.
“Its continued operation is essential to the American economy, as well as our energy security and our national security interests,” Craig Stevens, spokesman for pipeline advocates GAIN Coalition, said in a statement.
Energy Transfer shares closed up 2% on Friday. The company was not immediately available for comment.
The Army Corps decision to let the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continue to run came despite mounting pressure on the White House, led by environmental and Native American advocates, to close the line during the environmental review.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar; editing by David Evans, David Gregorio and Grant McCool)