WASHINGTON — The Dakota Access oil pipeline again staved off what would have been an unprecedented shutdown, with a court ruling that the Trump administration has to decide whether the conduit can operate while a more robust review is done.
Judges said Wednesday that they expect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clarify in front of a federal district court whether the agency thinks the pipeline must shut after a key permit was vacated in July. The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit buys pipeline operator Energy Transfer LP some time after the July 6 shutdown order rocked the industry.
“Despite the mixed decision from the circuit court, the impact is wholly positive for the pipeline,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Brandon Barnes. Energy Transfer shares rose as much as 6.2% before paring gains to trade up 3.7% at 3:50 p.m. in New York. The company reports second-quarter earnings after the market closes.
The oil industry has been watching the Dakota Access case with bated breath. Pipeline operators and developers are increasingly losing legal battles over key permits, but the Dakota Access order marked the first time a federal court told a major crude pipeline to shut due to violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Dakota Access has been in service for three years after drawing months of on-the-ground protests during its construction near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The district court’s July decision said the Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA when it approved a key permit for the pipeline, ordering the project to shut down while the agency conducts a more robust review.
Energy Transfer, led by billionaire Kelcy Warren, said the judge didn’t have the authority to shut the pipeline and that the company would continue to accept capacity reservations beyond when the conduit was supposed to be drained. A week later, the D.C. Circuit issued a temporary stay of that order, allowing the line to keep operating.
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