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Obama Administration Sets Two-Month Review Process on Tribal Input For Pipelines

The Obama administration on Friday released a "consultation schedule" with Native American tribes that was originally called for earlier in the month following court rulings against the tribes' attempts to shut down the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline now under construction between North Dakota and an oil hub in south-central Illinois.

The departments of Interior and Justice, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), decided that recent events surrounding the oil pipeline project, which has completed a two-year permitting process with the federal government and four states (North/South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois) earlier in the year, "highlighted the need for a broader review and consultation” (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9).

The October through mid-November meetings were characterized by the three federal agencies as being "prospective" in tinkering with federal decision-making on projects such as the Dakota Access project by a unit of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. Nevertheless, the meetings could result in additional review of a key water crossing under the Missouri River in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which has been the focus of a growing protest movement.

Upcoming meetings by the trio of federal agencies will seek input on two basic questions:

  • How can federal agencies better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions to protect tribal lands, resources and treaty rights within existing laws? and
  • Should the federal agencies propose new legislation altering the statutory framework to promote these goals?

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies welcomed the move by the Obama administration, calling it "historic," and pipeline backers, such as the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, embraced the idea that there should be more tribal consultations on future projects. But regarding the Dakota Access project, "official and judicial records" show the USACE and the project builders held "at least 389 consultations with 55 tribes as well as several hundred other consultations."

On Monday in Washington, DC, tribal leaders met directly with President Obama as part of the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, and Dakota Access project opponents held a separate rally outside the conference to dramatize their call for the pipeline project to be stopped. The fate of the oil pipeline is now clearly in federal hands (see Shale Daily, Sept. 19).

Also on Monday, Christi Tezak, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, projected that it is now "more likely that a supplemental review [by the federal agencies] may be announced," keeping pipeline builders from getting the easement from the USACE to complete the water crossing under the Missouri River for at least several months.

"We also continue to believe that the tensions over Dakota Access will lead to tighter permitting restrictions in the upcoming five-year renewal of the Corps-administered Nationwide Permit Process," Tezak said.

"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is fighting for our lives, our people and our sacred places because of a failed consultation with our tribe before approving construction of this pipeline," said Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux chairman. "The USACE did not hold meaningful consultation with our tribe."

Meanwhile, the new federal consultation schedule calls for a "listening session" Oct. 11 in Phoenix, AZ at the National Congress of American Indians Convention, followed by six separate consultations through Nov. 21 in Seattle (Oct. 25), Albuquerque, NM (Oct. 27), Billings, MT (Nov. 2), Minneapolis (Nov. 15), Rapid City, SD (Nov. 17), and a teleconference (Nov. 21).

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