CANNON BALL, N.D. — Federal officials announced on Sunday that they would not approve permits for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a dammed section of the Missouri River that tribes say sits near sacred burial sites.
The decision is a victory for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters camped near the construction site who have opposed the project because they said would it threaten a water source and cultural sites. Federal officials had given the protesters until tomorrow to leave a campsite near the construction site.
In a statement on Sunday, the Department of the Army’s assistant secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said that the decision was based on a need to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.
“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,” Ms. Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
The consideration of alternative routes “would be best accomplished through an environmental-impact statement with full public input and analysis,” Ms Darcy said in a statement.
But it was unclear how durable the government’s decision would be. Sunday’s announcement came in the dwindling days of the Obama administration, which revealed in November that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering an alternative route. The Corps of Engineers is part of the Department of the Army.
President-elect Donald J. Trump, however, has taken a different view of the project and said as recently as last week that he supported finishing the 1,170-mile pipeline, which crosses four states and is almost complete. Mr. Trump owns stock in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, but has said that his support has nothing to do with his investment.
The Conflicts Along 1,172 Miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline
A detailed map showing the Dakota Access Pipeline that has led to months of clashes near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
Representatives for Mr. Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
There was no immediate response from Energy Transfer Partners, but the chief executive, Kelcy Warren, has said that the company was unwilling to reroute the pipeline, which is intended to transport as many as 550,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of western North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois.
Reaction was swift on both sides, with environmental groups like Greenpeace praising the decision. “The water protectors have done it,” a Greenpeace spokeswoman, Lilian Molina, said. “This is a monumental victory in the fight to protect indigenous rights and sovereignty.”
But Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, a pro-infrastructure group, condemned the move as “a purely political decision that flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left,” Mr. Stevens said in a statement. “With President-elect Trump set to take office in 47 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Still, the announcement set off whoops of joy inside the Oceti Sakowin camp. Tribal members paraded through the camp on horseback, jubilantly beating drums and gathering around a fire at the center of the camp. Tribal elders celebrated what they said was the validation of months of prayer and protest.
“It’s wonderful,” Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock tribal chairman, told cheering supporters who stood in the melting snow on a mild North Dakota afternoon. “You all did that. Your presence has brought the attention of the world.”
Mr. Archambault expressed gratitude for “the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”
Tribal officials had criticized the route because of the potential damage to the tribe’s drinking water and that it would disrupt sacred lands.