The deputy secretary of the Army will grant the final permit needed for completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army declared in a court filing Tuesday, clearing the final bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of the massive infrastructure project.
The Army’s intention to grant a 30-year easement under Lake Oahe, which came in a court filing over an ongoing federal environmental review of the controversial project, was immediately hailed by congressional Republicans and decried by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other opponents of the pipeline. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Army officials indicated that they were terminating a plan to prepare an environmental-impact statement on how the pipeline would affect land and water along its 1,170-mile route.
The move, coming two weeks after President Trump instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an expedited review of the easement, underscores the new administration’s intent to spur infrastructure development and support the fossil fuel industry. Both during the presidential campaign and since taking office, Trump has spoken of the need to accelerate domestic energy production and the construction of pipelines that can bring oil and gas to market.
While couched in dry language–the letter from Deputy Secretary of the Army Paul D. Cramer to Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) detailed the 7.37 acres the pipeline would traverse on federal property–the easement marks a major blow to activists who had come from across the country last year to gather on the Great Plains and mark the land as the site where a tribe and its allies would defy the federal government. Those opponents argued the project–which crosses four states and would carry crude oil from the rich shale oil basins of western North Dakota to the pipeline networks and refineries in the Midwest–could damage the environment and disturb ancient burial grounds.
Construction cannot begin until the actual easement is granted, which Cramer wrote will be given to the project’s sponsor Energy Transfer Partners no later than Wednesday afternoon. The 1,100-mile stretch running underneath Lake Oahe is one of the final parts to be built, and it will take between 60 and 80 days from the start of construction before the pipeline will become operational.
In the meantime confrontations between activists and law enforcement, who have already clashed on the proposed site of the project, could flare up once again. While the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has urged its supporters to go home due to worsening weather conditions, a few hundred protesters have remained. Last week, authorities arrested 74 activists who had decamped from the tribal reservation to land owned by Energy Transfer Partners.