Tribes move to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
BISMARCK — Native American tribes opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline once again have asked a federal judge to stop the flow of oil while the legal battle over the line's future plays out.
The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes succeeded on their first attempt, only to have an appeals court overturn U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's shutdown order earlier this year. Now, they're asking the judge to clarify his earlier ruling to satisfy the appellate judges and then to again order the line to cease operations, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The tribes argue that potential harm to their water supply outweighs any economic impacts of shutting down the line, which has been moving North Dakota oil to Illinois for more than three years.
Tribes fear a spill into the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Reservation would pollute their water supply. Pipeline operator Energy Transfer and the Army Corps of Engineers both maintain the pipeline is safe. Prolonged protests in 2016 and 2017 drew thousands of people to camps near the river crossing and resulted in hundreds of arrests.
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols declined to comment Oct. 19 on the tribes' filing. The Corps and Energy Transfer have until Nov. 20 to file a formal response.
Boasberg, who is overseeing the four-year-old lawsuit filed by the tribes, ordered an extensive environmental study last spring because he felt previous, less-extensive environmental analysis by the Corps left lingering questions.
Tribes are asking Boasberg to issue an injunction to shut down the pipeline while the legal fight plays out.
Study: State’s oil and gas collapse could last years
CARLSBAD — Economic analysts are warning that New Mexico could be unable to rely on its oil and gas industry as the market continues to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lease fees, royalty payment and taxes from oil and gas operations accounted for about 30% of the state's budget in recent years, according to a study from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The research also found that the industry provided about a quarter of the state's operations budget last year.
But with the price per barrel of oil declining, the study suggests the financial support the industry offers New Mexico could be weakening.
Earlier this year, lawmakers faced a $400 million shortfall in the state's budget which many attributed to declines in the oil and gas markets.
As of Nov 2, domestic crude oil was trading at about $39 per barrel, after a historic plummet in April — when the pandemic took hold in the U.S. — pushed the price to less than $0 per barrel for the first time in history.
Before the pandemic, oil was priced at about $55 to $60 per barrel, with the study reporting an average of about $48 per barrel between 2015 and 2019. Between 2010 and 2014, the average price of oil was about $86 per barrel.
That has meant shrinking operations in New Mexico where oil and gas development is centered around the Permian Basin. Baker Hughes reported an average of 45 active rigs so far in October, marking a 60% decrease since October 2019.
While prices have recovered some, they would need to stay at an average of $80 per barrels for several years, the study read.
Also blocking the industry's path to recovery are high infrastructure costs, oversupply and increasing competition from the renewable sector.
Judge OKs agreement to end dispute over threatened owl
ALBUQUERQUE — A U.S. judge approved an agreement between environmentalists and federal managers that will clear the way for both forest restoration efforts and logging to resume in the Southwest.
The judge's order was filed Oct. 28, a day after the sides announced they had reached the resolution.
The court had limited tree-cutting and restoration projects on national forest lands in New Mexico and Arizona last year pending the outcome of a battle over the threatened Mexican spotted owl. WildEarth Guardians had accused the U.S. Forest Service of failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act by not regularly monitoring the owl population.
Under the agreement, federal managers will track population trends through 2025 and conduct research to better understand the effects on the owl of thinning and prescribed burning in forests. Surveys also will be done prior to ground-disturbing activities and known owl habitat will be protected.
The agreement applies to all 11 national forests in the New Mexico and Arizona.
The resolution follows another agreement reached over the summer with the Center for Biological Diversity that included a set of recommendations and other provisions aimed at protecting the owl while allowing thinning projects to move forward.
District may sign on to fight new transgender sports law
BOISE — The Greater Boise Auditorium District may help the American Civil Liberties Union fight Idaho's new law banning transgender girls and women from taking part in women's sports.
The district is considering the ACLU's request for a friend-of-the-court brief. The district would use revenue from the 5% tax it imposes on hotel-room stays to pay the legal bill. That could be up to an estimated $50,000, a district spokesperson said.
The district's elected board voted unanimously Oct. 20 to study the request for the next few weeks, a spokesperson said.
Board members worry that hotel-room bookings, restaurant patronage and other spending by out-of-state conventioneers and tourists will fall as organizations boycott Idaho because of the law.
Patrick Rice, the district's executive director, estimated that event cancellations triggered by the law could cost Boise's hospitality industry $100 million in lost business from college basketball tournaments and other potential visits over the next several years.
In last winter's legislative session, Idaho lawmakers passed, and Gov. Brad Little signed, House Bill 500, also known as the Fairness in Women's Sports Act.
The law applies to all teams sponsored by public high schools, colleges and universities. It does not allow girls or women's teams to admit those born as male, even if they identify as female. It does not apply to transgender athletes who want to compete on boys or men's teams.
The ACLU responded by suing in federal court in Boise on behalf of Lindsay Hecox, then 19, a transgender Boise State University student, and a then-17-year-old unnamed non-transgender Boise High School student. Both identify as female.
Chief U.S. District Judge David Nye granted a preliminary injunction in August that put the law on hold until a final court ruling.
Tribe proposes reopening 4 casinos in Arizona, NM
ALBUQUERQUE — The Navajo Nation is asking the public to weigh in on the possible reopening of four of the tribe's casinos in New Mexico and Arizona.
The proposed reopening plan would allow casinos and other gaming facilities to operate at 50% capacity.
If the legislation is not passed, Albuquerque TV station KRQE reports the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise likely will be forced to permanently close and lay off all employees by the end of this month.
The Navajo Nation gaming facilities have been closed since March to limit the spread of COVID-19 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
As of Nov. 1, tribal health officials said there have been 11,753 coronavirus cases on the reservation with 581 known deaths since the pandemic began.
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