A federal judge could decide by early February 2017 whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must approve an easement for Energy Transfer Partners LP's controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline if the Trump administration does not first intervene, ClearView Energy Partners analysts said after a court hearing.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered at a Dec. 9 hearing that briefs from the corps and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe be filed by Jan. 6, 2017, in response to developers' motion for summary judgment, ClearView reported in a case update. Dakota Access then has until Jan. 31, 2017, to submit its response, to which the corps and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe would be given 10 days to respond.
Boasberg said that if the court feels it is required, it will notify the parties of a date for oral argument.
"We think Judge Boasberg's decision reflected what we thought was Dakota Access' politely but clearly implied assertion that the corps is withholding relevant information. Judge Boasberg scheduling order directs the corps to make 'good-faith' efforts to 'begin compiling' the ... documents Dakota Access requested," a note from Clearview Energy Partners LLC said following the court's status conference. "Absent action by the incoming Trump administration, we think Dakota Access could receive a ruling from Judge Boasberg by early February."
On Dec. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused approval of an easement allowing the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, one of the final pieces of the nearly complete crude oil line connecting Bakken Shale supplies with a conduit to Gulf Coast markets. Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said the evaluation of route alternatives should be conducted through an environmental impact statement with public input and analysis.
Standing Rock and supporters have been protesting the pipeline project for months, saying it would endanger sacred sites and the local water supply.
Under the Obama administration's order, alternate routes would be subject to an environmental impact statement, a longer and more involved review than the environmental assessment that had been required for the pipeline. Boasberg acknowledged that the schedule he laid out might not come to pass as actions taken under the new administration might "render certain issues moot."
"Based on today's events, we think the pipeline may have a good chance of having its motion for summary judgement granted," ClearView Energy said.
ClearView concluded that if Boasberg orders the corps to issue the easement, the approximately 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline could be in service in April or May 2017.