'Historic day' for Standing Rock as pipeline company told to shut down, remove oil

Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota on Sept. 3, 2016. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, File)

Indian Country Today

Updated: Another blow for pipelines: The U.S. Supreme Court has kept in place a lower court ruling that blocked a key permit for the Keystone XL

Kolby KickingWoman

Indian Country Today

A federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down and remove all oil within 30 days, a huge win for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and the other plaintiffs.

In a 24-page order, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that he was "mindful of the disruption" that shutting down the pipeline would cause, but that it must be done within 30 days. The order comes after Boasberg said in April that a more extensive review was necessary than what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already conducted and that he would consider whether the pipeline would have to be shuttered during the new assessment.

“Following multiple twists and turns in this long-running litigation, this Court recently found that Defendant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted an easement to Defendant-Intervenor Dakota Access, LLC to construct and operate a segment of that crude-oil pipeline running beneath the lake,” said the opinion from Boasberg.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court handed another blow to the disputed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada by keeping in place a lower court ruling that blocked a key permit for the project.

(Related: US Supreme Court deals blow to Keystone oil pipeline)

Monday's order also put on hold an earlier court ruling out of Montana as it pertains to other oil and gas pipelines across the nation.

That’s a sliver of good news for an industry that just suffered two other blows — Sunday's cancellation of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast gas pipeline in the Southeast and the ruling that shut down the Dakota Access oil pipeline. 

"The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect," Boasberg wrote in Monday's Dakota Access ruling. "It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to DAPL, the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states.

This doesn’t appear to be the first time Boasberg has reversed or rescinded a previous judgment.

According to BallotPedia, since 2018 the judge has ruled against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detaining asylum seekers more than seven days and also stopped states from implementing work requirements for Medicaid programs.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, called the ruling "shocking" and noted that the pipeline is moving 570,000 barrels of Bakken oil a day.

"I think there's a lot of questions about the authority of this liberal district court judge to make such a significant ruling," Ness said of Boasberg, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. "There is no doubt that the lawyers are all gearing up and looking at every possibility of a stay or an appeal or something."

From the outset of the pipeline’s construction, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith Jr. said the tribe stood against the project.

“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” Faith said. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”

The pipeline extends more than 1,000 miles from North Dakota to Illinois – but the issue is the portion of the project that is buried under the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe said a leak will contaminate their drinking water and sacred lands.

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation sit next to the Standing Rock Sioux and Missouri River. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier celebrates the decision. 

"I applaud the actions of the US District Court in finding what we knew all along, that this pipeline, like many other actions taken by the US government, is in fact illegally operating," read the statement. "The fact that this operation had been operating illegally for three years before this conclusion was finally made shows you the power that money holds on the American government."

Late in the Obama administration the Corps of Army Engineers announced it would suspend approval of the project while an Environmental Impact Statement was prepared. “A few months later, however, following the change of administration in January 2017 and a presidential memorandum urging acceleration of the project, the Corps again reconsidered and decided to move forward,” the opinion said. “It granted the sought permit, construction was completed, and oil commenced flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline. “

This the court found was a substantial error and a violation of the National Environmental Environmental Policy Act.

The bottom line: “The Corps had not been able to substantiate its decision to publish” only an Environmental Assessment and not an Environmental Impact Statement.

“Dakota Access’s central and strongest argument … is that shutting down the pipeline would cause it, and the industries that rely on it, significant economic harm, including substantial job losses,” the court said.

The court’s decision is the latest and possibly final ruling on what has been a years long court battle. Earthjustice Attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the tribe, said despite the long court process, justice for the tribes has been served.

“If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on,” Hasselman said.

The pipeline company said it could lose $643 million in the second half of 2020 and $1.4 billion in 2021 if shut down. The court said: “All of these financial losses would be absorbed by the owners of Dakota Access,” particularly Energy Transfer Partners, the current parent company of DAPL after a merger with Sunoco.”

Energy Transfer last year proposed increasing the pipeline's capacity to as much as 1.1 million barrels to meet growing demand for oil from North Dakota, without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments.

Before the coronavirus pandemic devastated the U.S. oil industry, daily oil production in North Dakota - the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas - was at a near-record 1.45 million barrels daily. The state's output slipped to below 1 million barrels daily in May amid low energy prices and sparse demand.

Permits for the project were originally rejected by the Obama administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers prepared to conduct a full environmental review. In February 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, the Corps scrapped the review and granted permits, concluding that running the pipeline under the Missouri River posed no significant environmental issues.

The Corps said that opinion was validated after an additional year of review, as ordered by Boasberg in 2017.

Boasberg had ruled then that the Corps "largely complied" with environmental law when permitting the pipeline but ordered more review because he said the agency did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux's fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.

“Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease,” Boasberg’s ruling stated.

In a statement, the Indigenous Environmental Network is celebrating all the prayers and support the #NoDAPL movement has received over the years. While Boasberg’s opinion clearly states the flow of oil must stop, the organization is prepared to fight to see that through.

“The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have shown the world that treaty rights and environmental justice are not token concepts without merit, but rather tangible arguments that inherently protect the sacredness of mother earth. We will continue to fight until DAPL is stopped completely,” the statement said.

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Comments (9)
No. 1-7
David Noor
David Noor



Notice the oil guys statement goes directly to politics. Our lives are not fricking based on politics. Well in their eyes it is, but fact is, these people are using us as pawns. And this judge just did what he was supposed to do, follow the law as it is written and understood. And no matter what a prosecutor or the like says, any ambiguities that arise concerning Indians in a court of law will ultimately go in their favor because that is how the law was written by the powers to be. The cannons of construction clearly state that and every man or woman who practices in the United states knows this, yet some will ignorantly try and find loop holes through or around it because that is what they do.
If, and that is a big stretch, they truly followed the law that is written, we wouldn't even have to fight these corporations as we do. But greed will make some people do really ugly things to others. That is fact. For months our people and anyone supporting them were tortured by police and private security firms for this pipeline. For generations are people have been forced to accept the decisions made by state officials who ignorantly deny we have rights and laws protecting Indian Country, but again, ignorance is the ruling class for many in this country. Profits Over People, that is the mindset of many, and it is usually the Indigenous people who suffer the most because of it.
The ignorance is usually followed by large sums of money being offered to look the other way, or forget, forgive or take part in the destruction of Mother Earth.
Just like the Black Hills, rightfully the land of the Lakota people, but ignorantly stolen by the United states because it contained gold, discovered shortly after they forced the Lakota onto those lands. And the theft is even admitted by senate officials but when they discussed in hearings whether to give the Hills back, a republican senator spoke up and said that is not possible because if we did that, other tribes will come after us for their land as well. So, we cannot give that land back but can offer you a very large sum of money to compensate for it, but we will not give you the land back. Strong armed robbery. They expect the Lakota People to take that money so they can then say, we paid you for it. Our relatives ain't stupid, even way back then, they were smarter than that, and instead of certain slaughter, they unwillingly signed those treaties to prevent certain death of our people. So, it is not like they wanted any of this, our relatives tried letting the settlers come in peace and that didn't happen. And no, this isn't about the past, but about the fact that the past still hasn't changed, especially concerning us. We are gaining ground though, and that's what the powers to be are afraid of. Thank you all who have supported and stood arm in arm with Indigenous peoples across the world. That is how we beat this oppressive system, by linking arms and taking it back with the laws many of them tried to rewrite. United we are one, divided and we fall. It is an us against them world. Money over humanity, profits over people cannot be tolerated any more.


I’m a proud water protector . , and being one of the 8 that’s part of the civil suit from November 2016 on the 1806 bridge at Standing Rock ... I’m really proud that they have to remove the oil and stop pumping.... I’m simply proud to be Navajo and was part of something Right when it was the right time and place to stand strong and together ..... Israel Hoagland -Lynn is my name .... thanks for all the soppier .... thank you

Malcolm Nazareth
Malcolm Nazareth

Last summer during a special road trip from St. Cloud, MN, my family and I visited Standing Rock and especially Cannon Ball and felt the energy and the struggle of our sisters and brothers. We have been sad and angry alongside the Indigenous while they struggled and we have rejoiced and celebrated their victories every time they won. Today we're very, very happy that a major milestone has been reached. We will not be satisfied until every pipe of every single dirty-oil pipeline is pulled out of the ground in every single state of the US. We shall only be satisfied when the Big Oil industry is made to pay dearly for all the harm that their Black Snake has created in North America. Reparation to the Indigenous first! No more fracking, no more destruction of the planet anywhere!


I couldn't have said it better. I have felt the earth's pain my whole life. I've watched the destruction of our planet through urban sprawl, plastics pollution, and the fouling of our air. Our food supply is tainted by pesticides and antibiotics.
Our water is poisoned and our oceans ecosystems are on the brink of systematic failure. Not many people caught up in this media driven insanity have the courage to admit that we are broken as species, and fewer feel the motivation for positive change. When nuclear weapons, AK assault rifles and hatred of 'others' becomes a source of comfort for millions, something is wrong. Corporate board meetings decide the most palatable lies to fuel their propaganda machines. Sustainability is cast as a quaint notion for liberal retards. Democracy is given lip service while the wealthy solidify their holdings with a cadre of lawyers. A handful of well connected, narcissistic power junkies have been very clever these last 50 years, grabbing positions in every aspect of politics and filling our courts with glass hearted, partisan judges. Maybe if I was still in my 20s I would jump into these protests, but at 58 I am certain in my heart that the human race is destined to remain a disconnected body of self interested, frightened animals just smart enough to ensure their own destruction. It's funny, and sad, and my hat is off to the indigenous peoples who for thousands of years came the closest to a successful human experiment.


Wow! It's not over till it's completely over but great news today. "La lutte continue", "the struggle continues..." but final victory looks more likely! Thanks to so many supporters of Mother Earth!