U.S. District Judge James Boasberg of the District of Columbia on Tuesday rejected an emergency filing by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent ongoing construction of the four-state, nearly 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline project.
However, Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) said it would voluntarily suspend construction activity in the area in south-central North Dakota where some pipeline protests apparently have turned violent.
Claiming that it was not properly consulted when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) approved the pipeline project, the Standing Rock Sioux motion sought the TRO last week to halt future work in an area two miles west of state Highway 1806 and within 20 miles of Lake Oahe. Boasberg is scheduled to rule on Friday (Sept. 9) regarding the tribe's request for a permanent injunction to stop construction of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline project.
"The desecration of these ancient places already has caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm," said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II. "We're asking the court to halt this part of the destruction."
During the emergency TRO hearing Tuesday, Boasberg refused to take sides on the claims of violence near the protest site. Boasberg said his office was flooded with calls in support of the Sioux's position, causing him to make the aside that "some people seem to believe a court is like a legislator's office." He said he would not be drawn into "diametrically opposing accounts" of what is happening at the construction site and protest encampment.
Focusing on work near the border with South Dakota and the Sioux reservation, the tribe claims that pipeline construction has destroyed sacred, ancient burial sites, places of prayer, and other significant cultural artifacts. Last week the Standing Rock Sioux filed court documents claiming that the area contains "significant Native American artifacts and sacred sites," a spokesperson said.
Archambault said Tuesday the tribe was "disappointed that the U.S. District Court's decision does not prevent Dakota Access Pipeline LLC from destroying our sacred sites as we await a ruling on our original motion to stop construction of the pipeline." The Labors' International Union of North America and activist group Bold Iowa also have been clashing over the pipeline for weeks (see Shale Daily, Aug. 31).
After what the tribe said was an initial "assault" on the area Saturday with bulldozers, pipeline construction workers returned nd allegedly dug up more grounds in the pre-dawn hours last Sunday, according to Archambault. Pipeline construction crews allegedly removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide, stretching for two miles northwest of the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers. A former historic preservation officer with the Sioux, Tim Mentz, claimed the land contains multiple graves and specific prayer sites.
In the meantime, the Standing Rock Sioux said "thousands of people" from across the United States have joined its protest encampment. A Morton County, ND Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman told reporters that four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured last weekend after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews. One of the security officers reportedly was taken to a Bismarck, ND, hospital for undisclosed injuries; the two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic.
Meanwhile, a coalition of pipeline supporters, the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), said Boasberg's decision Friday would "allow the ongoing construction of the federally permitted pipeline west of Lake Oahe, and we remain hopeful that his pending ruling on the injunction will ultimately allow progress to continue."
MAIN criticized a comparison of Dakota Access with the ill-fated TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL oilsands pipeline. "It is not like Keystone other than it's a pipeline," said a spokesperson. "We agree with the USACE that safety must be the top priority, and the pipeline, once completed, will be among the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines ever constructed."