Construction may resume on a stretch of the contested Dakota Access Pipeline near a Native American reservation in North Dakota, a federal court ordered Sunday evening.
The order, issued shortly before the symbolically important Columbus Day holiday, denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s attempt to halt work on the pipeline while their lawsuit proceeds against the federal agency that approved the project. The Sioux contend that the 1,172-mile pipeline running from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to facilities in Illinois may contaminate the Missouri River, their water source, and destroy sacred and historical sites.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not backing down from this fight,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault in a statement. “We are guided by prayer, and we will continue to fight for our people. We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said in its two-page order that the tribe did not prove “the existence of irreparable harm” nor did it meet other conditions necessary to obtain an injunction.
The ruling addresses only work in the 20-mile area around Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Soon after the three-judge panel handed down its decision, the Associated Press reported that the departments of the Interior and Justice, as well as the Army, announced that no construction on federal land would be allowed within that buffer zone around the lake.
Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company that designed the pipeline to carry 570,000 barrels of oil per day, may resume building on other land in the area. The U.S. Army and the departments of Interior and Justice, however, asked the company to voluntarily suspend all work within this section, according to Reuters.
A final reckoning on the project could come in weeks as the departments involved have been reviewing what factors led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue construction permits. Pipeline opponents have argued the Corps didn’t fully investigate the potential for environmental harm, and the Standing Rock Sioux have said they weren’t properly consulted as required by the National Historic Preservation Act.
The Court of Appeals panel sounded sympathetic to the last concern.
“Although the Tribe has not met the narrow and stringent standard governing this extraordinary form of relief, we recognize Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act was intended to mediate precisely the disparate perspectives in a case such as this one,” the order said. “We can only hope the spirit of Section 106 may prevail.”
Opposition to the project intensified over the summer as a large encampment of Native Americans and environmentalists took root near Lake Oahe. Native Americans have accused Energy Transfer Partners of deliberately destroying burial sites and artifacts before they could be properly examined.
The company has denied finding anything potentially historic and has alleged that protesters have threatened its workers. Dozens of people, including Archambault, have been arrested for charges like disorderly conduct and trespassing.
Protests have also grown in Iowa, where state authorities used eminent domain to seize farmers’ land to make way for the pipeline.
Energy Transfer Partners did not immediately respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment.