A new study on the Dakota Access Pipeline likely won’t change the opinions of supporters and opponents of the project. The person who counts, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, received the study on Friday, but hasn’t ruled on it.
Boasberg ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the study more than a year ago. He said the corps hadn’t adequately considered how an oil spill under the Missouri River would impact the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's fishing and hunting rights. The judge also wanted to know whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community -- a concept known as environmental justice. The goal is to ensure development projects aren't built in areas where minority populations might not have the resources to defend their rights.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the corps’ summary of its findings said the chances of an oil spill are low and the impact on hunting and fishing will be limited in size and duration. The corps said minority populations, including the tribe, and low-income groups are not at greater risk of "adverse human health or environmental effects," according to the Associated Press.
The complete analysis, which runs more than 100 pages, won't be released until a confidentiality review is completed.
The Standing Rock tribe wasn’t swayed by the study. The tribe along with three other North Dakota and South Dakota tribes have filed a lawsuit in an effort to shut down the pipeline. It’s understandable why the tribes might be skeptical about the study since it confirms an earlier report done by the corps.
Boasberg’s most recent rulings have indicated he’s likely to rule in favor of the pipeline, though he’s been careful to take the tribes’ concerns under consideration. The pipeline has been operating since June 2017 and the judge refused to shut it down while the study was conducted.
It’s been a long fight and no matter how the judge rules it won’t end the legal maneuvering by those involved. It’s unfortunate that Energy Transfers Partners, the Texas-based company that built the pipeline, can’t find a way to ease the Standing Rock tribe's concerns.
The Standing Rock tribe has recorded some victories. The Public Service Commission has changed its policy to ensure tribes are consulted on projects. Gov. Doug Burgum has met with tribal leaders and promised a continued dialogue.
Still, the aftereffects of the pipeline protests linger. There’s still resentment by some on both sides and the legal proceedings continue. As of Aug. 23, 15 of the 831 state-level criminal cases from the protests were open, according to South Central Judicial District figures. About 700 cases have been adjudicated two years after arrests began in August 2016 during the monthslong protests. About 90 arrest warrants remain inactive.
It’s long past the time to get back to normal relations. There were valid issues on both sides and there was no way to completely satisfy everyone. Boasberg’s decision will be important, but not likely the final word.