Dakota Pipeline Still Moving Oil Despite Shutdown Order

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline continued to fill it with North Dakota crude oil on Wednesday and said it has no immediate plans to shut down the line, despite a federal judge's order that it be stopped within 30 days for additional environmental review.

Pipeline owner Energy Transfer asked the court Wednesday to halt the order, and is seeking an expedited appeal.

“We are not shutting down the line immediately,” said Vicki Granado, who noted that the Texas-based company is still taking orders to move oil on the line in August. “We're not saying we're going to defy anything.”

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Monday ordered the pipeline shuttered for an additional environmental assessment more than three years after it began pumping oil.

“We don't believe he has the authority to do this,” Granado said.

Boasberg has given the company 30 days to empty the pipeline while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fulfills his demand to conduct a more extensive environmental review than the one that allowed the pipeline to start moving oil near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Boasberg cited the “potential harm” that the pipeline could cause before the Corps finishes its survey.

The Dakota Access pipeline was the subject of months of protests in 2016 and 2017, sometimes violent, during its construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The tribe pressed litigation against the pipeline even after it began carrying oil from North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa and to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile (1,886 kilometer) pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the reservation. The tribe draws its water from the river and fears pollution. The company maintains the line is safe.

Jan Hasselman, the EarthJustice attorney representing Standing Rock and other tribes who have signed onto the lawsuit, said Energy Transfer is “playing a pretty dangerous game” by not draining the pipeline immediately.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said the pipeline likely would have to be shut down promptly to meet the judge's deadline. The pipeline holds about 5 million barrels of oil when full. The oil moves only at the speed of a “brisk walking pace,” Kringstad added.

Oil producers, meanwhile, are scrambling to ensure their product gets to market, either on other pipelines or by rail, Kringstad said.

“This is deeply problematic for everybody,” he said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said his group that represents several hundred companies working in North Dakota's oil patch believe Energy Transfer has valid legal arguments to keep the line flowing.

“Everybody is hoping they are right but everybody is looking at alternatives,” Ness said. “When you are a producer, you got to make sure you got a place for your oil to go and producers are scrambling to alter their plans. It's a bad deal all the way around.”