Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners filed two actions in federal court in Washington late Monday, seeking "a judgment declaring that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build."
"In these actions, Dakota Access Pipeline is requesting the court to confirm that the Corps has already granted all of the relevant authorizations and given Dakota Access Pipeline its right-of-way to finish the pipeline beneath the federal land that borders Lake Oahe in North Dakota as a result of its prior actions in granting a permit to allow Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe," said a statement from Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners
Tuesday, the Corps announced it had delayed construction work on the controversial pipeline to hold further "discussion and analysis" with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Protests have simmered
for months, spawning bitter clashes over the 1,172-mile oil pipeline currently under construction that would span from North Dakota to Illinois.
Tuesday, thousands of people took the streets in many parts of the country, calling on officials to ditch the plan altogether.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says construction of the pipeline -- which is currently slated to run under the Missouri River -- would affect its drinking water supply and put communities living downstream "at risk for contamination by crude oil leaks and spills."
"It's nothing more than ecological racism," a protester in Columbus, Ohio, told CNN news affiliate WBNS on Tuesday, as a fellow protester chained himself to a car, causing a major thoroughfare to be closed as he was cut out and arrested.
The pipeline's developer sought permission from the Army Corps to tunnel under the Missouri River in Lake Oahe, North Dakota, in order to complete the project, and says that permission was fully granted.
"Dakota Access Pipeline has waited long enough to complete this pipeline. Dakota Access Pipeline has been granted every permit, approval, certificate, and right-of-way needed for the pipeline's construction. It is time for the Courts to end this political interference and remove whatever legal cloud that may exist over the right-of-way beneath federal land at Lake Oahe," said Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe welcomed the news of a delay in the project.
"We are all a little relieved that they are putting it off to take another look," Allison Renville, a tribe member, told CNN.
"But ultimately there is no negotiation when it comes to the pipeline. We won't consider this a win if the pipeline isn't stopped in its tracks."
On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers halted further construction
on and around the lake, because it "has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement," according to its statement. Further review was needed in consultation with the tribe, it said.
"The Army is mindful of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's repeated dispossessions, including those to support water-resources projects," said a letter sent to the tribe by Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works). "This history compels great caution and respect in considering the concerns that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has raised regarding the proposed crossing of Lake Oahe."
The Army Corps said it would consult with the tribe regarding "potential conditions on an easement" that would reduce risks of spills and protect the water supply. It also pledged to complete the review "expeditiously."
Delay decried by pipeline backers
But the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline slammed the latest decision
as "lacking legal or factual justification."
"The Corps knows full well that it is seeking additional consultation with a party [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] that has steadfastly refused to consult," said a joint statement Monday from Energy Transfer Partners and Sunonco Logistics Partners.
Last Tuesday, Energy Transfer Partners announced that it had completed the pipeline
on each side of Lake Oahe and was preparing to drill as it awaited the easement from the Army Corps. The project had previously received a permit from the Army Corps to tunnel under the lake, it said.
Warren, Energy Transfer Partners' CEO, decried the decision as "motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given."
Dakota Access is a $3.7-billion project that backers have touted as the safest and most efficient way to transport oil, rather than using rail or trucks. Its proponents also say the pipeline could help the US become less dependent on importing energy from foreign countries.
Tribe says pipeline harms more than environment
Meanwhile, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said the Army Corps' announcement wasn't 100% what it had sought, but showed that its concerns had been heard.
"We are encouraged and know that the peaceful prayer and demonstration at Standing Rock have powerfully brought to light the unjust narrative suffered by tribal nations and Native Americans across the country," said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement.
In addition to environmental concerns, the tribe has contended that the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens its members' economic well being, and its burial and prayer sites.
Multiple groups have joined the protests. Throughout the months-long standoff, activists have routinely destroyed construction equipment as part of their protest.
Archambault had told CNN previously that his tribe will settle
for nothing less than stopping the pipeline's construction.
And with President-elect Donald Trump poised to take power in January, Renville and others in the tribe worry they won't have a fighting chance if it's up to him to decide.
"In my own opinion, the more they push it off the more it's going to be up to Donald Trump to make the decision," Renville said.
Trump has not commented on the pipeline but has discussed energy policy ideas suggesting he would support its completion.