On Sunday afternoon, the US Army released a statement saying that it would not approve an easement that would allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota until a thorough environmental impact assessment is conducted.
"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army, said in a statement. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."
The news is being greeted with enthusiasm by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental activists at Standing Rock who have been camping out and taking direct action against the pipeline's construction for months.
The announcement comes on the heels of a November 14 statement from the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) which said that "the Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easement through government property."
The "additional discussion and analysis" evidently came to a close today when the ACE did not approve the easement until a thorough review was conducted regarding the environmental impact of running the 30-inch pipeline under the lake. The pipeline would transport up to 500,000 barrels of oil per day, sparking concerns that it would poison its local environment.
Today's announcement comes less than 24-hours before ACE had mandated that the protesters were to vacate their camp.
Although the denial of the easement is being heralded as a victory by the water protectors, the battle for the anti-DAPL protesters is far from over. There is always the chance that the easement will be granted after the environmental assessment and even if an alternate route is selected, it may still encroach on tribal land.
Moreover, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's attorney Jan Hasselman pointed out to The Guardian, there is always the chance that Energy Transfer Partners, the company which is building the pipeline, could sue and the Trump administration could overturn the decision. For now though, many of the protesters and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are simply enthused that they'll be able to see their families this winter.
"With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well," said Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman. "We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point."