United States: DAPL opponents’ fears come true as first spill confirmed

May 13, 2017
Opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline warned of the dangers of oil spills to water resources.

Throughout the battle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), the  US$3.78 billion pipeline that will carry about 500,000 barrels of oil a day, indigenous campaigners and supporters repeatedly warned it was not a question of if, but when a breach would occur.

Now, before the pipeline is even fully operational, those warnings have come to fruition.

Associated Press reported on May 10: “The Dakota Access pipeline leaked 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota early last month, which an American Indian tribe says bolsters its argument that the pipeline jeopardizes its water supply and deserves further environmental review ...

“The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources posted a report in its website’s searchable database, but it didn’t take any other steps to announce it to the public, despite an ongoing lawsuit by four Sioux tribes seeking to shut down the pipeline.”

The pipeline operated by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is expected to be in service by June 1.

“As far as this happening during the start-up, I don’t want to make it sound like a major event, but the fact that you had oil leaving the tank says there’s something not right with their procedures,” long-time pipeline infrastructure expert Richard B Kuprewicz said to Dakota Media Group.

Joye Braun, of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, which is still engaged in a legal battle to shut down the pipeline, said the news was concerning.

“This leak hits close to home, my home,” Braun said. “We have always said it’s not if, but when, pipelines leak, and to have someone like Richard B. Kuprewicz — a pipeline infrastructure expert and incident investigator with more than 40 years of energy industry experience — question the integrity and building practices of Dakota Access says something pretty serious could go wrong.

“South Dakota already faces water shortages and our livelihoods depend on water, from ranching and farming to healthcare. Do we have more spills just waiting to happen?

“This is our home, our land, and our water. This just proves their hastiness is fueled by greed not in the best interest for tribes or the Dakotas.”

News from elsewhere in the country this week hardly helps ETP’s case.

Following two spills of millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio wetlands last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “curtailed work” on ETP’s Rover gas pipeline, the Washington Post said on May 10. 

After the spills and 18 reported leaks, the Post reported, FERC blocked ETP, which also built the controversial DAPL, from starting horizontal drilling in eight areas where drilling has not yet begun. In other areas, where the company has already begun horizontal drilling, the FERC said drilling could continue.

The FERC also ordered the company to double the number of environmental inspectors and to preserve documents the commission wants to examine as it investigates the spills.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week fined ETP US$430,000 for damaging the wetland, which an agency spokesperson said “will likely not recover to its previous condition for decades”.

Responding to the South Dakota incident, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said: “We fear more spills will come to bear, which is an all too frequent situation with Energy Transfer Partners pipeline projects.

“As such, eyes of the world are watching and will keep Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners accountable.”

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]

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