CANNON BALL, N.D. — Industry leaders are urging President-elect Donald Trump to make approval of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline a “top priority” when he takes office next month, while opponents who have protested the project for months are vowing to stay put on their sprawling North Dakota encampment despite harsh winter weather and a tribal leaders’ call to leave.
The moves come after the Army declined to issue a permit for the $3.8 billion pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. While the Army’s decision doesn’t end the debate over the pipeline, industry analysts and the chairman of the Native American tribe that’s led the protests said Monday they don’t expect any developments for months.
Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault lauded the Army’s decision as taking “tremendous courage,” and National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said it showed “respect for tribal sovereignty.”
The Standing Rock tribe believes the 1,200-mile pipeline to transport North Dakota oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois threatens drinking water and cultural sites. Dallas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has denied that and said the pipeline will be safe. The segment under Lake Oahe is the only remaining big chunk of construction.
“I am hopeful President-elect Trump will reject the Obama administration’s shameful actions to deny this vital energy project,” American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement late Sunday. The institute represents the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.
Trump supports construction of the pipeline, spokesman Jason Miller told The Associated Press on Monday, but Miller wouldn’t say whether Trump would reverse the Army’s decision.
“We will review the full situation when we’re in the White House and make the appropriate determination at that time,” Miller said.
The Sunday announcement by Assistant Army Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy does not actually deny an easement for the project, but says additional review is needed. That means the pipeline company cannot file an appeal because the project was not formally rejected.
Energy Transfer Partners slammed the decision as politically motivated and alleged that President Barack Obama’s administration was determined to delay the matter until he leaves office. The company is awaiting a decision from a federal judge it asked earlier to give it permission to drill under the lake.
A full environmental review, including alternate routes and spill risks, could take as long as a year, though that is considered unlikely under the Trump administration.
Once in office, Trump could move to cancel the full review and greenlight the project, but court cases remain pending and any move by the new administration is sure to face a legal challenge from one side or another.
The Army’s announcement likely delays the pipeline by at least several months but does not kill it, energy analysts said. While the company had hoped to begin piping oil next spring, the project is now likely to be delayed until summer or fall at the earliest, said Christi Tezak, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based research firm.
The MAIN Coalition, made up of agriculture, business and labor entities that benefit from Midwest infrastructure projects, hopes Trump will pave the way for completion of the project. The industry group said the Army’s decision is “arrogance that working class Americans soundly rejected” when they elected Trump.
Hundreds of people describing themselves as “water protectors” have been staying in the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, protest encampment along the pipeline route in southern North Dakota. Archambault, anticipating no changes for months, on Monday urged them to go home as dangerous wintry weather sets in.
“Their purpose has been served,” he said. “I’m thankful for all the people who have come, all the people who have stood by us, but there’s no need … to put people’s lives at risk.”
Monday was a federal government-set deadline for the people to leave the camp that’s on federal land, though authorities have said they won’t forcibly remove anyone. Gov. Jack Dalrymple last week also issued a “mandatory evacuation” but said no one would be removed by force.
A storm on Monday was bringing snow, strong winds and bitter cold temperatures to the area, but people in camp were busy shoring up housing and stockpiling firewood rather than getting in their vehicles and leaving.
“I plan on staying until it’s over,” said Andy Shute, 30, of St. Louis.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Matthew Daly contributed to this story from Washington, D.C. Blake Nicholson contributed from Bismarck, N.D.