Oil may begin flowing through the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline as soon as March 20 after a federal judge denied a request from two local Sioux tribes to halt the flow.
The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes filed the request as they continue to battle the pipeline's construction, reports the Associated Press.
In U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's March 14 decision, he outlined the history of the case, NPR reports:
At the start of 2017, that pipeline was nearly complete, save a stretch -- awaiting an easement -- that was designed to run under the bed of Lake Oahe, a federally regulated waterway that forms part of the Missouri River and straddles North and South Dakota.
Upon assuming office, President [Donald] Trump directed an expedited approval process, and on February 8, the Army Corps of Engineers issued the easement that permitted Dakota Access to drill under the lake.
Fearing that the presence of oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe will cause irreparable harm to its members' religious exercise, Cheyenne River responded with a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, in which it argues that the easement's grant violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and requests that the Court enjoin the effect of the easement and thus the flow of oil, which is expected to commence in the next week or two.
However, Boasberg denied the tribe's appeal on March 14, stating, "The critical factor here is Cheyenne River's lack of likelihood of success on the merits ... plaintiff does not have a strong case on appeal," according to AP.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has contested the appeal, noting that President Trump "has expressly determined that the pipeline is 'in the national interest.'"
Judge Boasberg has sided with the Corps, adding that a halt would cause pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, the lead pipeline developer to be "substantially harmed."
The Corps' opposition "represents the culmination of over two years of detailed environmental analysis and extensive consultation with (the tribes)."
Boasberg's order puts Energy Transfer Partners in a position to use the pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois once construction concludes, according to The Huffington Post. In March 13 court filings, company lawyers predicted oil to reach that stretch between March 20 and 22.
Following the case's decision, the Lakota People's Law Project, which supports the Sioux tribes' appeal, stated, "Oil should never be allowed to flow through this pipeline until the legal process has played out in the courts," NPR reports.
In January, President Trump overturned former President Barack Obama's December halt on the pipeline's construction.
“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it,” Trump said, reports The New York Times. “But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”
David L. Goldwyn, former head of the energy bureau at Obama's State Department, added, “Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol.”