The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on Wednesday said it had taken initial steps to review requests to approve the final permit to finish the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which has been the focus of protests for months.
The move does not mean easement to the tunnel under the Missouri River – the last remaining stretch of the pipeline in North Dakota to be built – has been granted. On Tuesday, two North Dakota politicians said they had been told by Army officials that the project would be completed.
Native American groups and climate activists have been protesting the $3.8 billion project, which runs adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in southern North Dakota.
“The Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the pipeline once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the directive,” the Corps said in a statement.
Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access pipeline stretches for 1,170 miles (1,885 km) from North Dakota’s oil-producing Bakken region to Patoka, Illinois.
The tribe had successfully won delays from the Obama Administration for further environmental review, but last week President Donald Trump signed an executive order telling the Corps of Engineers to expedite review of the project.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II last week said he has requested a meeting with Trump, but has not received a response.
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven said in a statement on Tuesday that Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer had told him and Vice President Mike Pence that Speer directed the Corps to proceed with the easement. Congressman Kevin Cramer also said he had been informed of the directive.
The Army’s statement, however, said that the steps for review “do not mean the easement has been approved.”
Opponents of the project, including the Standing Rock Sioux, claimed on Tuesday that Hoeven and Cramer were jumping the gun and that an environmental study underway must be completed before the permit can be granted