Construction on a North Dakota section of an oil pipeline opposed by Native Americans and environmentalists is in limbo while a federal judge in Washington, D.C., considers a lawsuit against the project and a local sheriff weighs the security of the site.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg heard arguments Wednesday in the case brought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The $3.8 billion pipeline ― which would run from North Dakota oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa and on to Illinois ― passes near their reservation.
The Standing Rock Sioux contend that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly review the impact of the project on the environment and historic sites. Judge Boasberg is expected to rule on the tribe’s request for an injunction by Sept. 9.
In the meantime, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Wednesday that work on the Dakota Access Pipeline may resume only after law enforcement concludes it can be done safely amid the large ongoing protests, the local Dickinson Press reported. The demonstration near the Standing Rock reservation, which included supporters from other tribes, had driven the sheriff to halt construction last week.
The Standing Rock Sioux allege that the pipeline could taint drinking water from the Missouri River and disturb sacred sites. Once it’s done, which could be later this year, the pipeline will carry 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
“Whatever the final outcome in court, I believe we have already established an important principle — that is tribes will be heard on important matters that affect our vital interests,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement after Wednesday’s court hearing. “The companies and federal government now know they cannot ignore tribes.”
An injunction would halt construction along the whole 1,172-mile route while the lawsuit moves through the court system. Such a delay could cost the builder Energy Transfer Partners $1.4 billion in the first year, the company claimed in court.
About 800 to 1,000 demonstrators were in a “spirit camp” near the work site on Wednesday, according to Doug CrowGhost, the tribe’s director of water resources. More than 20 people, including Archambault, have been arrested so far on such charges as disorderly conduct and trespassing.
“This puts all of their lifestyle in jeopardy,” said Allison Renville, 32, an Oyate Sioux from South Dakota who has attended the protests. “We’re trying to prevent the death of the land.”
But an Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary, which obtained restraining orders against the Standing Rock Sioux chairman and other protesters, alleges that rocks and bottles have been thrown at its workers. The standoff prompted North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) to declare a state of emergency near the protest site this past Friday.
CrowGhost called the governor’s decision “completely ridiculous” and said the protests have been largely peaceful.
“It’s been going on for 500 years and it’s going on today — a governor with a pen who doesn’t understand what we’re doing,” CrowGhost said.
Energy Transfer Partners and the sheriff’s office didn’t respond to HuffPost’s inquiries on Wednesday. Company officials had previously told HuffPost that work would continue elsewhere on the pipeline.