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US judge denies tribes' request to halt Dakota Access oil pipeline construction

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Washington — A US district judge Monday denied an emergency request by two North Dakota tribes to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline as crews rush to finish the last section of the 470,000 b/d Bakken crude outlet.

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The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were seeking a temporary restraining order against the project based on new legal argument that the project violates their religious freedom.

Related: Find more content about Trump's administration in our news and analysis feature.

Construction restarted last week when the Army Corps of Engineers granted the project a federal easement to drill under Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River in North Dakota that was at the center of protests for months.

Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court of the District of Columbia said the tribes still have time before oil starts flowing on the system to argue for a preliminary injunction.

Dakota Access estimated last week that it could start commercial service by early May in a best-case scenario. A lawyer said in court Monday that crews might be able to accelerate that timeline.

Boasberg asked the company to give him an update February 21 and every Monday thereafter about when it expects to have oil flowing beneath Lake Oahe.

The judge set a February 27 hearing for the tribes' preliminary injunction request.

The tribes had argued that waters of the Missouri River, which they call Mni Sose, are sacred to them and "constitute the lifeblood of our religion and traditions."

"The tribe's treaties and the federal statutes that govern the tribe's rights with regard to the Missouri River establish that the tribe enjoys a clear property right in the waters of the Missouri and enjoys a right to waters that are clean and suitable for drinking, agricultural use, hunting, fishing, and other rights," a lawyer for the Cheyenne River Sioux said in a court filing.

The four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline is designed to deliver Bakken and Three Forks crude to Patoka, Illinois, where it connects with the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline to Texas.

Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics and Phillips 66 own shares in the project. Enbridge Energy Partners and Marathon Petroleum announced plans in August to acquire a major stake, but that deal has not closed.

--Meghan Gordon,

--Edited by Lisa Miller,