The developer of the stalled Dakota Access oil pipeline could soon get clearance from the US army to finish the multi-billion dollar project.
But the American Indian tribe that has led the battle against the $3.8 billion (£3bn) scheme for months has vowed to continue the fight.
The army said it will allow the four-state pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, the last big chunk of construction. The Standing Rock Sioux promised to fight the development in court.
The army intends to cancel further environmental study and allow the Lake Oahe crossing, according to court documents the justice department filed that include letters to members of Congress from deputy assistant army secretary Paul Cramer.
The 1,200-mile pipeline would carry North Dakota oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. Dallas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) had hoped to have the pipeline operating by the end of 2016, but construction has been stalled while the army corps of engineers and the company battled in court over the crossing.
The Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation is just downstream from the crossing, fear a leak would pollute its drinking water. The tribe has led protests that drew hundreds and, at times, thousands of people who dubbed themselves “water protectors” to an encampment near the crossing. ETP said the pipeline will be safe.
But tribal chairman Dave Archambault said the tribe is “undaunted” by the army’s decision. Even if the pipeline is finished and begins operating, he said, the tribe will push to get it shut down. The tribe also is organising a march in Washington DC on 10 March.
An assessment conducted last year determined the crossing would not have a significant impact on the environment.
However, then-assistant army secretary for civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy on 4 December declined to issue permission for the crossing.
ETP called Ms Darcy’s decision politically motivated and accused then-President Barack Obama’s administration of delaying the matter until he left office.
The corps launched a study of the crossing on 18 January, two days before Mr Obama left office, which could have taken up to two years to complete.
President Donald Trump signed an executive action on 24 January telling the corps to quickly reconsider Ms Darcy’s decision.