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Timeline extended for Dakota Access Pipeline environmental impact study
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Timeline extended for Dakota Access Pipeline environmental impact study

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A decal attached to an iron fence post with the words "No Spiritual Surrender" is one of the few visible remnants of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp that flourished in 2016 and 2017 on federal land north of Cannon Ball in Morton County.

The official word from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline is expected to come in September 2022, six months later than anticipated.

The Corps indicated its new timeline for publishing the final version of an environmental review of the pipeline inĀ an update posted to its website this month, saying the extension is to give entities it's working with such as Native American tribes more time to offer input.

The agency is overseeing a study known as an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to determine whether it reissues a permit for the line's Missouri River crossing. A judge revoked the permit last year after ordering the study, but the Corps has allowed Dakota Access to continue transporting oil. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wants the agency to shut down the pipeline in the meantime, but the Corps so far has declined to do so.

The river crossing lies just upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation, and tribal members are concerned about a potential oil spill. Standing Rock and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are involved in the Corps' study, and earlier this year they asked the agency for more time to offer input and review tens of thousands of comments members of the public have made about the pipeline since the review began last September.

The Corps originally said the review would take 13 months, but it indicated in late 2020 that it would take longer given operator Energy Transfer's plans to expand the line's capacity. Earlier this year, an attorney for the agency said it aimed to wrap up the study in March 2022.

It's not unusual for Environmental Impact Statements to take a few years to complete, according to a recent federal review of the documents. Such studies are a means to comply with federal law when an agency proposes a major action that could significantly affect the environment -- in this case, the Corps potentially granting another permit for the line to carry oil under the Missouri River. The pipeline has undergone other shorter environmental reviews, which courts have deemed insufficient.

Energy Transfer announced earlier this month that it had completed part of the pipeline's expansion. The line can carry an extra 180,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois for a total capacity of 750,000 barrels. It now has the ability to carry about two-thirds of North Dakota's daily oil output to market. Energy Transfer's plan is to ultimately boost the line's capacity even more to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day.

The expansion involves building pump stations along the route of the pipeline to increase its horsepower. One of those pump stations is west of Linton in Emmons County. A report on its construction filed with state regulators indicated that it was nearly complete as of July.

Dakota Access began transporting oil in June 2017. It's been the subject of mass protests and a lengthy legal battle brought by Standing Rock and other Sioux tribes. That lawsuit wrapped up earlier this year, but another legal challenge is possible once the Environmental Impact Statement is complete.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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