Dakota Access Pipeline: What happens next?

Updated 7:45 AM EST, Tue December 6, 2016
CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05:  Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05: Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Now playing
00:55
Protesters stand strong despite blizzard
dakota access pipeline protesters remain jpm orig_00010112.jpg
dakota access pipeline protesters remain jpm orig_00010112.jpg
Now playing
02:32
Dakota pipeline protesters' last stand
Tires burn as armed soldiers and law enforcement officers stand in formation on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land where they had camped to block construction. The pipeline is to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
Tires burn as armed soldiers and law enforcement officers stand in formation on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land where they had camped to block construction. The pipeline is to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
PHOTO: Mike McCleary/AP
Now playing
01:21
What's up with the Dakota Access Pipeline?
US Navy veteran John Gutekanst from Athens, Ohio, waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Native Americans and activists from around the country gather at the camp trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  / AFP / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Navy veteran John Gutekanst from Athens, Ohio, waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country gather at the camp trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:20
Police have their say about Standing Rock
Now playing
01:09
Veterans stand in solidarity in Standing Rock
CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05:  Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05: Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Now playing
00:55
Protesters stand strong despite blizzard
Now playing
02:37
Dakota Access Pipeline fight isn't over
Now playing
03:11
Victory for Native Americans in pipeline fight
A crowd celebrates at the Oceti Sakowin camp after it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won
A crowd celebrates at the Oceti Sakowin camp after it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't grant easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
PHOTO: David Goldman/AP
Now playing
00:55
Drumming, chanting over Dakota pipeline halt
dakota pipeline Tribe Announcement sot _00000000.jpg
dakota pipeline Tribe Announcement sot _00000000.jpg
Now playing
00:46
Tribe chief on Dakota pipeline: 'We made it'
CANNON BALL, ND - NOVEMBER 30:  Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the  Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CANNON BALL, ND - NOVEMBER 30: Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Now playing
01:29
Officials: Pipeline will be re-routed
exp Amy Goodman on standing rock_00011414.jpg
exp Amy Goodman on standing rock_00011414.jpg
Now playing
04:39
Amy Goodman describes covering Standing Rock
Now playing
02:58
Pipeline protesters defy evacuation order
Now playing
02:16
Protester: 'It will be a battle'
Police unleashed a water cannon on people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
Police unleashed a water cannon on people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
PHOTO: Kit Karzen
Now playing
03:00
Protesters fighting pipeline are staying put
Now playing
00:33
Meet Mni Wiconi, or Water is Life

Story highlights

Protesters thrilled with Army Corps announcement, worried that Trump administration may change course

Dakota Access Pipeline backers: We fully expect to build pipeline without rerouting

(CNN) —  

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline – the $3.8 billion project expected to move 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day across the Midwest – lasted long enough for the summer heat to give way to thick, white snow.

For months, Standing Rock Sioux tribe members and their allies battled the energy project they referred to as a “black snake.” They stood in the path of the pipeline both during peaceful actions and clashes with authorities that turned violent.

On Sunday afternoon, tribe members and their allies cried tears of joy after the US Army said it would not – for now – allow the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The Army says the plan should be carefully restudied, and alternative routes should be more deeply considered.

The Army’s statement does not rule out approval for the current plan in the future. And with President Obama leaving office in January, many questions still remain about what’s next for the project.

Why are Native American leaders celebrating?

Tribe members say that an oil spill at the lake would contaminate their water supply. The tribe’s reservation lies a half-mile south of the proposed crossing location.

They also say that the construction would cut through sacred land and destroy burial sites.

The Army’s announcement Sunday afternoon came one day before a looming deadline for protesters. North Dakota’s governor had ordered protesters to leave their campsite by Monday, citing harsh weather conditions.

The Army Corps of Engineers also had warned that activists could be arrested if they hadn’t left by Monday, but the agency later said it had no plans to forcibly remove those who stayed.

As the deadline approached, protesters prepared to stand their ground in the face of a potential forced removal. After hundreds had camped out at Standing Rock for months, thousands of reinforcements – including US military veterans – had flocked to area over the past week in a show of solidarity.

A protester demonstrates in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota over the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Philadelphia.
A protester demonstrates in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota over the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Philadelphia.
PHOTO: Matt Rourke/AP

“People have said that this is a make it or a break it, and I guess we made it,” Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe.

The sacred land at the center of the Dakota pipeline dispute

Is this the end of Dakota Access Pipeline?

Far from it. For now, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in her letter to the Corps that the proposed crossing at Lake Oahe requires more analysis, including a deeper consideration of alternative routes.

“A more robust analysis of alternatives can be done and should be done … before an easement is granted for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River on Corps land,” Darcy wrote.

The US Energy Information Administration shows the network of existing crude oil pipelines across the country.
The US Energy Information Administration shows the network of existing crude oil pipelines across the country.
PHOTO: US Energy Information Administration

Darcy called for the creation of an official environmental impact statement, a months-long process that would allow the public to weigh in.

She did not announce a timetable.

Where might the pipeline go instead?

It’s not exactly clear. Darcy did not propose alternate routes.

Her letter noted that one previously proposed alternative – having the pipeline cross the Missouri River about 10 miles north of Bismarck, the state capital which itself is well north of Lake Oahe – was eliminated early in the planning phase.

The current proposed route would stretch 1,172 miles from North Dakota into South Dakota, slithered through Iowa and ended in southern Illinois.

Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the corporations behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, said in a statement Sunday night they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”

“Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way,” the company said in a statement.

Is the fight over at Standing Rock?

While Sioux supporters may have celebrated a huge victory Sunday, they’re already looking ahead toward potential fights ahead over the pipeline.

“So it feels good I’m really happy that I’m here to witness it and celebrate with a lot of my elders and the youth, but I think that we also need to keep in mind that we need to be ready to keep going,” protester Morning Star Angeline Chippewa-Freeland said.

Iktce Wichasa Oyate, a small group that has provided security for protesters, called the decision Sunday nothing more than a “delay tactic” designed to “diffuse the power of the camp.” They now hope the project gets stopped entirely before a new plan under a new administration gains traction.

“The snake is trying to move from the open field, to the tall grass,” the group said in a Facebook post. Watch it carefully, there will be a new snake handler soon.”

Dakota Access Pipeline: What’s at stake?

President Obama is about to leave office. What happens with Trump?

Tribal leaders worry the Army’s current openness to alternate routes could end with the incoming Trump administration.

“More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe,” Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement.

Likewise, May Boeve, executive director of the environmental group 350.org, warned pipeline opponents.

“If Trump tries to go up against the leaders at Standing Rock he’ll just end up looking petty and small,” she said. “The fight against Dakota Access has fired up a resistance movement that is ready to take on any fossil fuel project the Trump administration tries to approve. On Dakota Access and every other pipeline: If he tries to build it, we will come.”

Jason Miller, spokesman for the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump, said Monday that the pipeline is generally “something that we support construction of.” The Trump administration will review the matter after the inauguration, Miller said.

CNN’s Sara Sidner reported from Cannon Ball, North Dakota; Max Blau, Caroline Kenny and Gregory Krieg reported and wrote from Washington, DC and Atlanta. CNN’s Jason Hanna, Barbara Starr, Susanna Capelouto and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.