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Dakota Access Pipeline Could Be Freed to Finish Construction; Possible In-Service in May

The change of presidential administrations and a federal district judge in Washington, DC, could free up for final construction the stalled $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project in the next weeks. A start-up of the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline for moving Bakken oil from North Dakota could happen in May, according to analysts.

Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) DAPL filed a reply Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and if the newly installed Trump administration decides not to respond to that court filing, a judgment allowing the pipeline project to complete its final segment could come in early February.

Questioned in a White House press briefing Monday afternoon about whether President Trump would act to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president is interested in “maximizing the use of the nation’s natural resources” and in “areas that can increase jobs.” Spicer said the Dakota pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline fit in both of those categories.

An early February ruling favoring the DAPL project "would imply an in-service date of early May," said Christi Tezak, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, which has been projecting that the six-month-old dispute between ETP's nearly completed pipeline project and the federal government would be resolved in the first half of this year.

On Friday, as President Trump was being sworn in during the inauguration, DAPL attorneys filed a reply to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) opposition to the pipeline project's cross-claim and motion of summary judgment seeking the court to confirm that the project can proceed with its final segment based on an easement the USACE granted in July.

The July 25 easement to cross a dammed portion of the Missouri River, Lake Oahe, in south-central North Dakota was granted by the USACE only to be rescinded at the eleventh-hour by the Obama administration in the face of stiff opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is adjacent to the pipeline route and near the lake.

As legal matters now stand, the USACE needs to respond to DAPL's latest filing in the next 10 days, and the Trump administration could choose not to do so, leaving Judge James Boasberg to rule in favor of the pipeline "relatively soon," according to ClearView's Tezak.

On Monday, Standing Rock leaders passed a resolution urging the protesters still in North Dakota to leave their encampment. Calling the opponents of the pipeline "water protectors," the tribe's statement urged them to "vacate the camps and head home with our most heartfelt thanks."

In North Dakota, a key Trump administration backer, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), told a local radio interviewer that the Obama administration's halt of the final DAPL construction could be reversed as early as Monday. Cramer said his "hope and expectation" was the final pipeline construction work would resume within a week.

In the past, ETP officials have said the water crossing under Lake Oahe would take 90 to 100 days complete.

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