Words were projected onto the EPA headquarters during a demonstration.
A series of decisions in the past few days have stopped or sunk three high profile oil and gas pipeline projects. The Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines – sources of longstanding controversy – both suffered legal setbacks that require additional environmental impact assessments. Regardless, the natural gas pipeline on the Atlantic coast recently won a case before the United States Supreme Court, which was however abandoned by the two energy companies behind it.
The Keystone XL pipeline is expected to transport oil from Alberta, Canada, southeast to Nebraska, but has experienced significant delays. The Dakota Access pipeline, on the other hand, has been in operation for several years and transports oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois.
Both were subjected to major protests. The Keystone protests focused on the climate impact of facilitating production in Alberta's oil sands, where extraction is unusually energy intensive. Dakota Access was strongly rejected by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and others), who feared the consequences of a leak in which the pipeline runs under the Missouri River on the edge of the reserve country.
The Obama administration ultimately denied Keystone approval and ceased work on Dakota Access, while the Army Corps of Engineers reevaluated the proposed route. Immediately after taking office, President Trump pushed both projects forward and pursued some remaining permits.
These steps were challenged in court, where tribal and environmental groups have argued that the environmental assessment requirements have not been met. This argument has prevailed in recent decisions. A US District Court judge ruled in April that the Army Corps of Engineers should not exempt the Dakota Access pipeline from conducting an environmental impact assessment on the river crossing. On Monday, the same judge ruled that the pipeline had to be shutdown pending the analysis and gave 30 days to shut it down.
However, according to a Bloomberg report, Energy Transfer (the owner of the pipeline) rejects this order. Instead, the oil transportation with its customers is planned for August.
The Keystone pipeline already ran into trouble with the district court in April when a judge ruled that a longstanding Army Corps program that allows pipelines and other utilities to skip many permit requests for river crossings is not legal. This lawsuit focused on Keystone, but the ruling affected projects across the country.
The decision is appealed, but the Trump administration wanted the US Supreme Court to make an emergency decision to prevent the change from taking effect until the process is complete. On Monday, the Supreme Court passed the Keystone ruling and prevented construction from beginning. However, the court has restored the current rules for all other projects.
This case was one of the factors cited by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy Sunday when they announced that they had decided to discontinue the Atlantic Coast pipeline project to carry natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. They argued that a stay before the Supreme Court "would ultimately not change the jurisdiction or reduce the uncertainty associated with a possible decision."
It's a surprising decision since companies only won a Supreme Court case last month over whether the pipeline could cross the Appalachian Trail. A number of environmental groups had sued and argued that the US Forest Service should not have given the permit because the pipeline should not be approved on the national park's land. Obviously, it would be logistically difficult to ever operate a pipeline on the east coast without crossing the nearly 2,200-mile path, and a number of pipelines are already doing so. The Supreme Court ruled that the approval of the pipeline on the Atlantic coast should be valid.
However, Duke and Dominion said that "sustained delays and increasing cost uncertainties that jeopardize the economics of the project" caused companies to abandon it. Instead, Dominion decided to sell all of its natural gas pipeline and storage facilities to a "subsidiary" of well-known investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – a $ 9.7 billion deal.
The Keystone and Dakota Access projects could ultimately win through the appeal process or resume after new environmental assessments have been completed. However, it is also possible that the government's position will change after the 2020 parliamentary elections. But at least in the short term, these court decisions have brought both pipelines to a standstill again.