Federal Judge ruled environmental analysis for DAPL inadequate, Army Corps must redo Lake Oahe study

A small victory for water protectors at Standing Rock

by Lisa Cyriacks

On June 14 US District Judge James Boasberg ruled on the third lawsuit filed by Standing Rock and the neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

In his ruling, Judge Boasberg ordered the US Army Corps of Engineers must redo its environmental analysis on sections of the pipeline that cross under Lake Oahe on the Missouri river. Although the current ruling allows the pipeline to continue to transport oil, he also left open the possibility that Energy Transfer Partners could be forced to cease DAPL operations as a remedy for these violations.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has long argued that the pipeline violates rights protected in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 as well as the constitutional right to religious freedom.

Two previous legal challenges against the pipeline failed to halt the construction. The first contended that the corps failed to properly consult with tribes about the threat that construction posed to sacred sites in the project’s path. The second argued that Dakota Access desecrated sacred waters and violated Lakota religious freedom.

This third, partially successful lawsuit focused on the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline and the US Army Corps’ failure to adhere to environmental law.

In December 2016, President Barack Obama denied permits for the last section of pipeline, recommending further study on alternative routes to the easement that allowed the pipeline to run beneath Lake Oahe.

Shortly after he was sworn in, President Donald Trump, however, ordered the Corps to issue the permits.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company developing the pipeline, completed the construction linking the two ends of the pipeline. Oil started flowing earlier in June.

Counter-terrorism tactics

In late May, the investigative-news website, The Intercept, published documents revealing how a shadowy, international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer Partners not only to stifle opposition but also to infiltrate and discredit the DAPL opposition movement.

Documents reveal that internal TigerSwan communications described the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters.

The Intercept obtained documents that reveal the efforts of law enforcement and private security contractors to stakeout DAPL opponents between October and December 2016. This timeframe also saw growing national attention to reports of law enforcement’s often brutal response to the demonstrators as the number of water protectors living in the camps grew to roughly 10,000.

The Intercept’s published online exclusive report details TigerSwan’s sweeping enterprise, covering nine months and five states.  Activists were monitored through aerial technology, social media monitoring, and direct infiltration. A propaganda campaign was also launched in an attempt to shift public opinion

The company, made up largely of special operations military veterans, was formed during the war in Iraq. Energy Transfer Partners hired the global security firm to suppress the indigenous-led movement centered on protection of water. Leaked situation reports indicate that during the company’s first weeks working on the pipeline, TigerSwan operatives met with law enforcement in Iowa and North Dakota.

As the water protector movement expanded from North Dakota to other states, so did the surveillance. A report dated March 29, for instance, points to a meeting between TigerSwan and “the Des Moines Field Office of the FBI, with the Omaha and Sioux Falls offices joining by conference call. Also in attendance were representatives of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Department of Homeland Security, Iowa Department of Emergency Services, Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Iowa Department of Wildlife. Topics covered included the current threat assessment of the pipeline, the layout of current security assets and persons of interest.

As state legislatures around the country pass laws criminalizing protest and policing continues to be militarized, the fact that a private security firm retained by a Fortune 500 oil and gas company coordinated its efforts with local, state, and federal law enforcement to undermine the protest movement has profoundly anti-democratic implications.

The pipeline became a rallying point for both climate activists and indigenous civil-rights advocates in April of last year, as thousands of people—many of them Native Americans—gathered on the Standing Rock reservation to protest and physically obstruct the pipeline’s construction. By late October, Standing Rock had become the largest Native protest in the United States with the highest profile in four decades.

“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence and will ask the court to shut down pipeline operations immediately,” said Dave Archambault, III, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a publicly released statement.

This victory has significant implications for the future of energy infrastructure and the climate, demonstrating that indigenous movements can potentially provide significant aid in the defense of the planet and its people against large oil and gas corporations.