Dakota Access oil pipeline nears final permit, lawmakers say

By Ari Natter on 2/1/2017

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Energy Transfer Partners LP may be close to getting the permit it needs to finish the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a project that became a flash point for environmentalists, but a symbol of President Donald Trump’s pledge to jump start energy infrastructure.

Just a week after Trump signed a memo directing the Army to expedite the line’s approval, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven said Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers had been directed to move forward with the easement necessary to build the final leg of the $3.8-billion crude oil line under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe.

“Essentially where we are at is the White House has done whatever review they needed to do and they have directed the [acting] Secretary of the Army Robert Speer to go ahead with the easement,” Hoeven said in a telephone interview. “They will do that in the next few days.”

The decision would follow months of protests that have stalled construction on the last leg of the 1,172-mi (1,886-km) project. Environmentalists warn it will endanger water supplies and Native Americans say it will damage culturally significant sites. But Trump vowed during his campaign to speed reviews of energy projects and ordered his administration in his first days in office to expedite the Dakota line as well as the Keystone XL line connecting the Canadian oil sands with refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

The rest of the line will be built with “the necessary safety features to protect” the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others that have fought against its construction, Hoeven said in a statement.

The tribe said Tuesday that it will challenge any suspension of the federal environmental review that was being conducted on the Dakota Access line. Abandoning the review would “amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president’s personal views,” the tribe said in an emailed statement.

No notice

The tribe said it hadn’t received a notice that an environmental review had been suspended.

"The Army Corps lacks statutory authority" to stop the review and issue an easement, the tribe said. "The Corps must review the presidential memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement."

The Army Corps and Energy Transfer didn’t respond to requests for comment after regular business hours. U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said in a statement Tuesday that the Army Corps had notified Congress of its plan to grant the easement.

“President Trump has proven to be a man of action and I am grateful for his commitment to this,” Cramer said. Trump owned as much as $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners LP shares, according to his federal candidate disclosures in 2015. He’s since sold those shares, Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said in December when she was with the transition team. Trump’s pick for energy secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, served on the board of the company but resigned Dec. 31, according to his ethics statements.

The Dakota Access line would give oil explorers in the prolific Bakken shale formation a new route to markets, allowing them to forgo more costly rail shipments that have been a backstop when existing pipes fill up. With a capacity of about 470,000 bpd, Dakota Access would ship about half of current Bakken crude production to the Midwest and Gulf Coast.

Hoeven said that V.P. Mike Pence on Tuesday agreed to “push this forward” after the pair discussed the issue during the Senate Republican Caucus meeting, which they both attended. Hoeven also spoke with Speer.

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