Protesters celebrated a major victory on Sunday in their efforts to reroute the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from a tribal water source but pledged to remain camped on federal land in North Dakota anyway, despite Monday’s government deadline to leave.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that they would not grant an easement to extend the line near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a news release that her decision was based on the need to consider alternative routes for the pipeline’s crossing. Her full decision doesn’t rule out that it could cross under the reservoir or north of Bismarck.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
The segment of the 1,100-mile oil pipeline was almost complete, but was also the only contested part of it. Tribal members and supporters have protested it for months, saying that it would threaten their water supply.
Protesters and residents of the area were elated, but wary saying that they want to see the construction project totally gone before they believe their victory is complete.
“I’ll wait until DAPL takes down its lights and removes its equipment,” tribal elder Carole Standing Elk told the Bismarck Tribune. “I’m not as trusting. Words can be said for the public and taken back. I’ll wait until I see it in my hand.”
Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, says it is committed to continuing the pipeline using the currently planned route, and called the Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to grant the company permission to extend the line a “political move.”
“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” company officials said in a statement released Sunday, arguing that it has met the legal requirements to build the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters argue that extending the project beneath Lake Oahe would threaten the tribe’s water source and cultural sites. The segment is the last major sticking point for the four-state, $3.8 billion project.
“The whole world is watching,” said Miles Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux. “I’m telling all our people to stand up and not to leave until this is over.”
Despite the deadline, authorities say they won’t forcibly remove the protesters.
At a press conference, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said law enforcement would back away from a bridge that has been contested by protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, according to the Bismarck Tribune. “We will back off and we will de-escalate,” but warned that protesters should stay off the bridge for safety reasons.
An earlier version of this story appears at JETMag.com.