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  • A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on March 4 in New York City.

    A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on March 4 in New York City. | Photo: AFP

Published 28 March 2017

This is a setback for Native American water protectors, but not a defeat.

After months of fierce opposition from Native Americans and environmentalists, the controversial Dakota Access pipeline is finally carrying oil under Lake Oahe as preparations are made to bring the project into full service.

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“Oil has been placed in the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath Lake Oahe. Dakota Access is currently commissioning the full pipeline and is preparing to place the pipeline into service,” the company behind the project, Energy Transfer Partners, said in a court filing in Washington D.C on Monday.

Earlier in the month, a federal court denied a request from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe to prevent oil from flowing through a section of the pipeline close to the tribe's reservation.

“The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn’t broken us. Our legal fight is very much alive and we believe that ultimately we will prevail,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said in a statement.

After months of protesting against the pipeline, including occupying lands and direct action to stop construction, the Army Corps of Engineers said that the pipeline would not be allowed to cross under Lake Oahe. However, one of Donald Trump’s first executive orders was to reverse this decision by the Obama administration.

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As part of the status update in the ongoing lawsuit, the company did not say when the pipeline would be ready to carry oil more than 2,000 miles to its shipping locations. While the US$3.8-billion project is almost complete, it has been delayed by the ongoing protests.

Native American tribes and environmentalist argue that the pipeline violates tribal sovereignty, is being built across sacred lands, and that a spill could be disastrous for the local ecosystems, especially the Missouri River, the main water source for many tribes.

While the filling of oil represents one of the last hurdles for the pipeline’s completion, those in opposition have vowed to continue their fight against the project.

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