BISMARCK — In the ongoing legal battle over operation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a wave of interest groups have rushed to the pipeline's aid.
The deadline to file supporting briefs in the DAPL appeals case passed this week, on Thursday, July 23. A total 14 legal briefs were filed from a broad spectrum of interest groups, representing energy, agriculture and state governments, expressing support for the continued operation of the controversial pipeline through the long appeals process ahead.
Allies of DAPL, called "amicus curiae" in the court's Latin vocabulary, include a few major players in the North Dakota oil industry. The American Petroleum Institute, a powerful federation of oil and gas corporations, along with other national oil industry groups like the Association of Oil Pipelines and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, filed arguments in favor of continued pipeline operations.
North Dakota's Western Dakota Energy Association also filed a brief, stating that the federal trial court "manifestly erred" in calling for an environmental review of DAPL and "compounded the severe negative effects" in its July 6 order to immediately clear the pipeline of oil.
The pipeline has also found allies in oil-producing and oil-friendly states across the country. A coterie of 18 states filed a joint amicus brief earlier this month, including the governments of Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Louisiana and Texas. That brief argued each of the signing states, even those untouched by DAPL, "stand to suffer disastrous consequences if the district court’s order... is allowed to go into effect."
Among other arguments, the states wrote that a major shift from pipeline transport to rail transport required by a DAPL shutdown in North Dakota would displace rail cars needed for agricultural transportation in other parts of the country. The states offered broad estimates of the potential damage to their economies, but the brief claims that the shutdown would cost several grain-producing states like South Dakota, Indiana, and Montana each tens of millions of dollars in revenue .
The state of North Dakota was quick to file its own brief in defense of DAPL operations. That statement, submitted through the office of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, echoes many of the arguments that high-profile state officials like Gov. Doug Burgum and Oil & Gas Director Lynn Helms have levied in recent weeks.
North Dakota's brief states that a DAPL shutdown would inflict "immediate and irreparable harm" on the state economy. "A shutdown will force North Dakota’s oil industry to shut in massive amounts of oil production, and shift the remainder of production to more expensive and uncertain modes of transportation," the state argues. "This, in turn will significantly impact commercial activity, leading to billions of dollars in economic loss to the industry and thousands of unemployed workers."
Many of the briefs filed in support of DAPL operations also argue that the environmental hazards of returning to rail car transport will outweigh the environmental risk of continuing to run oil through the pipeline.
But briefs filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe argue that Dakota Access, the state of North Dakota and their allied parties have greatly exaggerated the economic toll of a DAPL shutdown, in part because oil industry production has already been hampered by pandemic setbacks.
In a report commissioned by the EarthJustice, the law firm representing Standing Rock, economist Marie Fagan argued that, because of oil's recent collapse, "closing down DAPL would have limited if any impacts on oil production, transportation, prices, or availability." Fagan added that actual impacts would be "so minor as to be lost in the noise of the other factors affecting the market."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will consider the arguments presented in each of these briefs before coming to a decision on the requested emergency stay.
Since U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg's July 6 order that the pipeline close, the appeals court has issued an "administrative" stay, allowing DAPL short-term permission to run while they make a more consequential decision on the operation of the pipeline for the remainder of the appeals process.
The court's decision on the emergency stay could come anytime in the next few weeks. Hearings before the appeals court have not been scheduled.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.