NORTH DAKOTA — It’s a $3.7 billion project that would cross four states and change the landscape of the US crude oil supply.
And depending on who you ask, the results could be an economic boon that makes the country more self-sufficient or an environmental disaster that destroys sacred Native American sites.
This week, a judge is expected to rule on the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Here’s what you need to know:
What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?
The 1,172-mile pipeline would stretch from the oil-rich Bakken Formation — a vast underground deposit where Montana and North Dakota meet Canada — southeast into South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
The oil potential in Bakken is massive. An estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil is believed to be in its US portion, according to the US Geological Survey.
After the pipeline is completed, it would shuttle 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to developer Energy Access Partners. That’s more than 19.7 million gallons of crude oil a day — or enough to make 374.3 million gallons of gasoline per day.
From Illinois, the oil could go to markets and refineries across the Midwest, East Coast and Gulf Coast.
Who approved it?
The US Army Corps of Engineers approved the project and granted final permits in July.
But the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Corps, saying the pipeline “threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has declined to comment to CNN, citing pending litigation.
But an advocacy group says the tribe’s claims are misleading.
“The Dakota Access Pipeline traverses a path on private property and does not cross into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation,” said the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. It said 100% of the affected landowners in North Dakota, where part of the tribe lives, voluntarily signed easements to allow for construction on their property.
What’s the argument for and against?
Pro: The pipeline wouldn’t just be an economic boon, it would also significantly decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil, the developer Energy Transfer Partners said. The pipeline would also help free up railways to transport “crops and other commodities currently constrained by crude oil cargos.”
Con: Construction for the pipeline will “destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts,” the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said. Opponents also cite environmental concerns, including possible contamination due to breaches and eventual greenhouse gas emissions.
What’s the latest on the legal fight?
On Sunday, the tribe filed an emergency request for a temporary restraining order “to prevent further destruction of the tribe’s sacred sites.”
“The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm,” the tribe said. “We’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction.”
On Tuesday, a judge declined the request to stop construction on an area west of Lake Oahe, which straddles the North-Dakota-South Dakota border. But the judge asked the developer to stop construction on another area, east of Lake Oahe, pending a separate ruling on a previously filed request to halt construction there.
That decision is expected by Friday.
What’s the environmental impact?
Depends on who you ask.
The developer says the pipeline would provide a safer, more environmentally friendly way of moving crude oil compared to other modes of transportation, such as rail or trucks.
Pipeline supporters cite the 2013 disaster in Quebec, Canada, where a train carrying crude oil derailed and destroyed downtown Lac-Megnatic.
But Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II said he doesn’t support moving more crude oil from North Dakota. He told CNN affiliate KFYR that Americans should look for alternative and renewable sources of energy.
More than 187,000 online petitioners agree.
“The Dakota Access pipeline would fuel climate change, cause untold damage to the environment, and significantly disturb sacred lands and the way of life for Native Americans in the upper Midwest,” a petition on CredoAction.com states.
Opponents also say they’re worried what would happen if the pipeline, which would go under the Missouri River, ruptured and contaminated the water supply.
But the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now backed the developer’s claim that pipelines are a safe way of moving crude oil.
“Already, 8 pipelines cross the Missouri River carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of energy products every day,” the group said in a statement. “Once completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will be among the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world.”
What’s the economic impact?
Energy Transfer Partners estimates the pipeline would bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments. It’ll also add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs, the developer said.
But Archambault said his tribe will settle for nothing less than the stop of the pipeline’s construction.
“We’re not opposed to energy independence. We’re not opposed to economic development,” he told CNN. “The problem we have — and this is a long history of problems that evolved over time — is where the federal government or corporations take advantage of indigenous lands and indigenous rights.”
What’s going on with the protests?
The Morton County Sheriffs Department said some protesters over the weekend threatened and attacked private security guards at a construction site and wounded a security dog.
Protesters disputed the authorities’ account, saying guards used pepper spray and tear gas on many of the demonstrators. Some protesters said they were injured by the guards’ dogs, CNN affiliate KFYR reported.
“It was kind of scary,” Lonnie Favel told the affiliate. “A lot of people are out here with their children. Accidents happen all the time with dogs, and people could really get hurt.”
On Tuesday, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was seen on video joining protesters and spray-painting the blade of a bulldozer. Stein was not arrested, but the Morton County sheriff may file trespassing charges against her, CNN affiliate KXMB reported.
What do the landowners get?
Energy Transfer Partners said it has tried to steer the pipeline away from residential areas and has tried to reach voluntary deals with property owners “at a fair price.”
In Iowa, for example, the average market price for land ranges from $3,432 an acre in Van Buren County to $16,000 an acre in Sioux County, the developer said. ETP said more than $189 million has been paid to landowners.
But Archambault, the tribal chairman, said he thinks the Native Americans are getting short-changed once again.
“What we’re opposed to is paying for all the benefits that this country receives,” he said. Whenever there’s a benefit, whether it’s energy independence … whether it’s economic development, tribes pay the cost. And what we see now are tribes from all over sharing the same concern that we have, saying, ‘It’s enough now. Stop doing this to indigenous people. Stop doing this to our indigenous lands.'”