WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accusing the federal agency of violating the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws after it issued final permits this week for a crude oil pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois.

The tribe, based in Fort Yates, N.D., with members also in South Dakota, is seeking an injunction to stay the pipeline's construction until its case can be heard.

Represented by Earthjustice, the tribe filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Washington D.C.

The tribe said in the filing that the “Corps effectively wrote off the tribe’s concerns and ignored the pipeline’s impacts to sacred sites and culturally important landscapes” as the pipeline travels through the tribe’s ancestral lands and passes within half a mile of its current reservation.

The Corps’ approval of the permit allows Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to dig the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River a half-mile upstream of the reservation and the tribe’s drinking water supply.

An oil spill at this site, said the complaint, also would constitute a threat to the tribe’s culture and way of life.

“The Corps puts our water and the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault II. “We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites. But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”

The $3.7 billion project, also known as Bakken Oil Pipeline, would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, carrying crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico - and also provide product to East Coast and Midwest refineries. 

“There have been shopping malls that have received more environmental review and Tribal consultation than this massive crude oil pipeline,” said Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe in the litigation. “Pipelines spill and leak - it’s not a matter of if but when. Construction will destroy sacred and historically significant sites. We need to take a timeout and ensure that the Corps follows the law before rushing ahead with permits.”

Despite objections by the Standing Rock Sioux and other organizations, construction of the pipeline already has begun.

The Standing Rock Sioux have launched an international campaign, called “Rezpect our Water,” asking the Army Corps to deny the key permits for the pipeline.

Currently, tribal youth are running from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to deliver the 140,000 petition signatures to the Corps.

The tribe pointed to two pipeline spills in defending its case. In 2010, a single pipeline spill poured 1 million gallons of toxic bitumen crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The cleanup cost more than $1 billion and significant contamination remains. In January of 2015 more than 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. This was the second such spill in that area since 2011.

However, Energy Transfer Partners has been using other selling points in promoting pipeline construction, which they hope to have done later this year.

Dakota Access could transport about 450,000 barrels per day with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more – which could represent approximately half of Bakken current daily crude oil production.

The pipeline, it said, would enable 100 percent domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective and safer manner as it can reduce the current use of rail lines and trucks to move Bakken crude oil to major U.S. markets.

A phone and email message to the company for comment was not immediately returned.

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