A federal judge on Wednesday ordered more hearings in coming months to decide whether the Dakota Access pipeline should be shut down after a more thorough environmental review of the pipeline was called.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg approved a schedule under which both sides in a lawsuit over the pipeline will submit written arguments on the matter in July and August.
“We would expect a decision sometime after that, probably September,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which filed the lawsuit last summer that was later joined by three other Sioux tribes.
The tribes sued because they believe the US$3.8-billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners threatens cultural and historical sites, desecrates sacred waters, and poses an environmental threat.
"Our view has been that the pipeline should be shut down," Hasselmann said.
After President Donald Trump took office and approved permit for its completion, the Dakota pipeline project was finished earlier this year and began transporting oil on June 1.
But before it was fully operational, the pipeline suffered its first leak on April 6, spilling 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station.
Energy Transfer Partners had assured that the pipeline was safe and represents a "more environmentally responsible manner than other modes of transportation, including rail or truck."
Boasberg last week ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the pipeline, didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill might affect the tribes. He ordered the agency to conduct more environmental analysis of the pipeline, but didn’t rule on whether oil transport will be shut down in the interim.
Matthew Marinelli, an Army Corps of Engineers lawyer, said he had “no timeframe” for completing that review when asked by Boasberg on court. He added that he would have an updated schedule when he files more paperwork with the court on July 17.
“The Corps is just starting to grapple with the issues the court has identified,” he said.
Hasselman and other tribes’ lawyers said they want to be involved in the process and would consider a more extensive legal fight if not.
“I expect the Corps to follow the law and follow the procedures that apply,” he said.