Dakota Access Pipeline Company Seeks Court Order to Complete Construction
Move comes as protests support Standing Rock Sioux tribe across the U.S.
— -- The company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline announced today that it has filed for a court order giving the company the right-of-way to finish construction of the controversial crude oil pipeline without further intervention from the federal government.
The latest legal move comes as protesters across the U.S. continue to demonstrate their support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its battle to block the four-state pipeline from crossing what the tribe says is a culturally sacred area that is also environmentally sensitive.
Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics Partners, announced today that they made two court filings late last night in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking a "judgment declaring that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build, complete and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline without any further action from the Army Corps of Engineers."
The announcement follows a statement from the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday saying it would delay issuing the final approval that the pipeline needs in order to complete construction in North Dakota, and invited the tribe to engage in further discussions.
“Dakota Access Pipeline has waited long enough to complete this pipeline. Dakota Access Pipeline has been granted every permit, approval, certificate, and right-of-way needed for the pipeline’s construction," Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, said in a statement today. "It is time for the Courts to end this political interference and remove whatever legal cloud that may exist over the right-of-way beneath federal land at Lake Oahe."
The 1,172-mile crude oil pipeline has been embroiled in controversy for months, with ongoing protests by Native American groups and environmental activists. Hundreds of protesters have camped out near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation in North Dakota, arguing that construction of the pipeline threatens the local water supply and traverses culturally sacred sites.
The CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access Pipeline, wrote in an internal memo to staff in September that "concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded," and that "multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route."
Tensions between local law enforcement and demonstrators have become more tense in recent weeks after heavily armed police fired rubber bullets and used pepper spray in confrontations with protesters on private land.
Energy Transfer Partner's legal move late last night comes after months of back-and-forth in and out of court between the pipeline company and various government agencies.
In September, a federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for a temporary injunction to halt construction near its reservation, but in an unprecedented move, three federal agencies -- the Departments of Justice, the Interior and the Army -- intervened with a joint statement asking that the pipeline company voluntarily halt construction near Lake Oahe while the Army Corps of Engineers reviews construction permits for the pipeline.
The Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement last week that it had asked Dakota Access to halt construction until early December to honor the federal government's request and allow for de-escalation of protests. "Dakota Access did not agree to this request," Colonel John W. Henderson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in that statement.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Dakota Access said in a statement that the company had offered to suspend construction near Lake Oahe "for a reasonable time period as part of an effort to diffuse tensions and to facilitate peaceful removal of protesters from the protest site," if they could agree on a certain date when they could resume construction, but said that the Corps rejected that offer. The Corps, however, would not be able to confirm a certain date for construction to resume without first deciding on the final easement needed for Dakota Access to complete construction.
The Corps must first decide whether to grant Dakota Access a final easement to complete construction. Its statement on Monday puts that decision on hold for now.
"The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property," the Corps’ statement said.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, then filed paperwork in court late last night, seeking the deceleration that they have the legal-right-of-way to finish construction without interference from the Army Corps.
A Department of Justice official had said last week that the agency would announce its decision "within a matter of days" on a "path forward" for the final easement needed in order to complete construction of the pipeline. However, then the Department of the Army and Department of the Interior issued a joint statement Monday that they would further delay a decision on an easement, and invited the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to discussions.
"The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property," the statement said.
Demonstrators pushing to block the pipeline have organized more than 100 "actions" at Army Corps of Engineers offices and other locations, in an effort to pressure President Obama to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline while he is still in office, according to the Indigenous Environmental Network, a Native American and environmental advocacy group.
Tribal leaders said they have become more concerned about the future of its water and lands following last week's presidential election, as 2015 public records show that President-elect Donald Trump had invested up to $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, the builder of the pipeline. Public records filed in May 2016 show Trump’s investment in the company was between $15,001 and $50,000.
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last week called on President Obama to "set a lasting and true legacy" by halting construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline before Trump takes office next year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deferred ABC News' request for comment to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect figures in Trump’s 2016 financial disclosure report.