Feds halt work on part of oil pipeline despite court ruling

NEAR THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, N.D. — The federal government stepped into the fight over the Dakota Access oil pipeline Friday, ordering work to stop on one segment of the project in North Dakota and asking the Texas-based company building it to ‘‘voluntarily pause’’ action on a wider span that an American Indian tribe says holds sacred artifacts.

The government’s order came minutes after a judge rejected a request by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt construction of the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline.

The tribe, whose cause has drawn thousands to join their protest, has challenged the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings for the pipeline. Tribal leaders allege it violates several federal laws and will harm water supplies. The tribe also alleges that ancient sites have been disturbed during construction.


The tribe’s chairman, Dave Archambault II, spoke at the North Dakota state Capitol in front of several hundred people, some carrying signs that read ‘‘Respect Our Water’’ and ‘‘Water Is Sacred.’’ Archambault called the federal announcement ‘‘a beautiful start’’ and told reporters that the dispute is a long way from over.

‘‘A public policy win is a lot stronger than a judicial win,’’ he said. ‘‘Our message is heard.’’

A joint statement from the Army and the Departments of Justice and the Interior said construction bordering or under Lake Oahe would not go forward and asked the Texas-based pipeline builder, Energy Transfer Partners, to stop work 20 miles to the east and west of the lake while the government reconsiders ‘‘any of its previous decisions.’’

The statement also said the case ‘‘highlighted the need for a serious discussion’’ about nationwide reforms ‘‘with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.’’

Energy Transfer Partners officials did not return phone calls or e-mails from the Associated Press seeking comment.


The president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council said he was disappointed with the government’s decision to intervene and called it ‘‘flagrant overreach’’ that will result in more oil being moved by trucks and trains.

The 1,172-mile project is intended to carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill.

US District Judge James Boasberg in Washington said in denying the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction that the court ‘‘does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance’’ to the tribe and that, given the federal government’s history with the tribe, the court scrutinized the permitting process ‘‘with particular care.’’

Nonetheless, the judge wrote, the tribe ‘‘has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here.’’

Attorney Jan Hasselman with the environmental group Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit on the tribe’s behalf, said earlier this week any such decision would be challenged. ‘‘We will have to pursue our options with an appeal and hope that construction isn’t completed while that [a]ppeal process is going forward,’’ he said.

Tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard said Boasberg’s ruling gave her ‘‘a great amount of grief. My heart is hurting, but we will continue to stand, and we will look for other legal recourses.’’

Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters, many from tribes around the country, gathered near the reservation that straddles the North and South Dakota border.


‘‘There’s never been a coming together of tribes like this,’’ according to Judith LeBlanc, a member of the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma and director of the New York-based Native Organizers Alliance. People came from as far as New York and Alaska, some bringing their families and children, and hundreds of tribal flags dotted the camp, along with American flags flown upside-down in protest.

The judge’s order was announced over a loudspeaker there. John Nelson of Portland, Oregon, came to the camp to support his grandson, Archambault. The 82-year-old says he was not surprised by the ruling, ‘‘but it still hurts.’’