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More than a billion dollars at stake if Dakota Access pipeline stalls, company says

CREDIT: ALEJANDRO DÁVILA FRAGOSO, THINKPROGRESS
CREDIT: ALEJANDRO DÁVILA FRAGOSO, THINKPROGRESS

Even a temporary halt would have “devastating” effects.

Dakota Access, the company now brushing off lawsuits and massive Native American protests in North Dakota over an oil pipeline set to cross four states, could lose $1.4 billion in a year if delays continue, it claimed in court brief Wednesday.

“Even a temporary or limited injunction would have devastating long and short term impacts to the [Dakota Access Pipeline] project,” the brief submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said.

Last week, three U.S. government agencies said they would not authorize construction of the pipeline on federal land near North Dakota’s Lake Oahe until agencies decide whether there’s a need to reconsider any of the previous permit decisions regarding the area. The Dakota Access pipeline has secured from the Army Corps of Engineers and the four Midwestern states most permits it needs. However, the pipeline lacks a federal easement for Lake Oahe, located by the Missouri River it is set to cross.

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The government also asked the company to voluntarily halt construction 20 miles east and west of the lake. North Dakota has been the focus of large Native American protests as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is now suing the federal government for giving developers the right of way, says the project threatens cultural sites and their drinking water source.

The U.S. government intervention came moments after a federal court ruled against a tribe’s request to halt construction. The tribe appealed that ruling earlier this week, and in response, Dakota Access filed its own brief detailing its estimated economic losses.

In the brief, the company said customer contracts could be permanently lost if Dakota Access’ January 1, 2017 delivery schedule isn’t kept. In addition, 8,000 workers would be affected. Even a temporary delay would mean loses of over $430 million, according to Dakota Access. Just demobilizing the construction could cost $200 million.

“These harms are irreparable,” Dakota Access, a company owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, said.

The staggering figures the company listed haven’t been independently verified. On the other side of the ledger, a recent Oil Change International analysis found that the pipeline’s emissions impact could be staggering, too.

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The 1,172-mile pipeline would be linked to over 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, Oil Change International, an advocacy group that backs a transition into renewable energy, found. These emissions are equivalent to approximately 30 average U.S. coal plants, or some 21.4 million U.S. passenger vehicles.

The Dakota Access pipeline would be the largest oil line out of North Dakota’s Bakken oil field. It would move more than half a million barrels of crude oil daily through the Dakotas, Iowa, and into a hub in Illinois. Now some 60 percent complete, the pipeline is scheduled to traverse hundreds of waterways and thousands of miles of fertile farmland. Construction is ongoing in land under state jurisdiction.

While North Dakota tribal members fear for cultural sites and their water supply, environmentalists say that building pipelines perpetuates fossil fuel emissions for decades to come at a time when human-caused climate change is warming the planet at an accelerated pace.

Meanwhile, some farmers say soil productivity may be irreversibly lost following excavation and compaction from the heavy equipment. Some have told ThinkProgress in past interviews they will fear a spill for years to come, while noting that the possibility of a leak grows as the pipelines ages.

“Pipelines as a whole have a very bad history of spills,” Richard Lamb, an Iowa landowner who has long opposed the pipeline crossing his farmland, said in a previous interview with ThinkProgress.

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U.S. pipelines spilled three times as much crude oil as trains over the period of 2004 to 2012, according to a recent study by the International Energy Agency, though pipeline incidents happened much less frequently.

“Energy Transfer Partners chose to begin construction before acquiring all necessary permits. That decision has consequences, and may have placed their investors in a risky position,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in statement to ThinkProgress.