Dakota Access Pipeline races to start moving Bakken crude

Oil will likely flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota early next week.

Barring any more twists or turns — and there have been plenty in the last seven months of this project — the contentious 470,000 b/d crude oil pipeline will start commercial service very soon thereafter. It will open up a major new route for Bakken and Three Forks production to flow to Illinois and onto the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Judge James Boasberg. Photo from US District Court for the District of Columbia.

A March 7 ruling by Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia cleared the way for the startup, when he turned down two North Dakota tribes' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent oil from flowing under Lake Oahe. On Tuesday, he ruled against the tribes again in denying an injunction pending appeal by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The lawsuit will go on, but Boasberg's role in the Dakota Access saga will likely fade to the background.

Boasberg has presided over the lawsuit with a level head that you'd expect of any judge named to one of the top US courts. He often acted as a mediator during hearings, trying to get the parties to the lawsuit — the North Dakota tribes, the US Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access — to reach an agreement without protracted filings about scheduling or moot issues.

He lost his cool only once — after the US Department of Justice issued a press release freezing pipeline activity near Lake Oahe moments after Boasberg had denied a preliminary injunction and allowed construction to go on.

Native Americans and other opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrated outside the White House as part of the Native Nations Rise march on March 10. Photo by Meghan Gordon

Boasberg routinely thanked members of the public who attended the hearings — for being civil and for being a part of the process. There were Standing Rock Sioux in ceremonial regalia, energy industry analysts gathering information for clients, and lots of lawyers and journalists filling the less-than-comfortable benches of Courtroom 19 in the federal courthouse in Washington.

Native Americans and other opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrated outside the White House as part of the Native Nations Rise march on March 10. Photo by Meghan Gordon.

Protesters will continue to fight Dakota Access and use it to galvanize opposition to future energy projects. The movement solidified a shift among environmentalists from exclusively targeting upstream projects to trying to block the transportation networks that move oil or natural gas from the wellhead to markets.

At the same time, companies have likely learned their own lessons from the Dakota Access saga — whether they plan to ramp up local engagement before applying for projects to build community support or adopt Energy Transfer Partners' strategy of keeping nearly silent while they go through the regulatory and court process.


Meghan Gordon, Senior writer, oil
Meghan Gordon covers federal energy policy, the oil market and renewable fuels from Platts' newsroom in Washington, DC. She previously edited Asian energy news in Tokyo and has worked for newspapers across the US, including The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

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