By David Manthos
On Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a decision which will again delay construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ruling was cheered by water protectors entrenched in the path of the pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. These representatives of indigenous nations, environmental activists, veterans and many other groups have been resisting pressure from private security and law enforcement officers from at least 76 different state and federal agencies or departments, as well as enduring sub-zero blizzard conditions. However, the ruling does not definitively end the controversy, it only delays the decision until further environmental impact studies are conducted.
Unfortunately the choices before the Army Corps appear to be limited, given the fact that as much as 87 percent of the North Dakota portion of the pipeline is already complete and nearly 50 percent of the almost $3.8 billion dollar project is completed and/or in the final stages of cleanup and reclamation. Furthermore, any further environmental impact study and public comment for the Army Corps could easily hand the decision over to Trump Administration which has expressed support the pipeline (despite the obvious conflict of interest with the President-Elect owning stock in several of the key companies involved). So while hands are wrung and ink is spilled on the specifics of this pipeline, let's take a look at why people around the world are rallying in opposition to any new pipelines.
The short answer is: 1. Accidents happen and 2. They are multi-million dollar investment projects which further lock us into years, even decades, of fossil fuel extraction and emissions.
You can explore this map of pipeline spills and releases from our friends at FracTracker, but what exactly do some of these incidents look like on the ground and in the water? Here are some of the most egregious cases from the past decade.
1. Western North Dakota, near Belfield: Dec. 5, 2016
Just this month, less than 150 miles from Oceti Sakowin Camp, a leak was discovered in the Belle Fourche pipeline. An estimated 176,000 gallons leaked and crews are reportedly testing whether or not they can burn some of the spilled oil to stop further spread of the oil.
As of Dec. 15, 10 days after the spill was discovered, less than 1/3rd of the oil had been recovered. But this is the not the first time that True Companies, the pipeline operator, has been in the news.
Belle Fourche Pipeline Leak, Dec. 10,Jennifer Skjod / North Dakota Department of Health
2. Yellowstone River, northeastern Wyoming: Jan. 17, 2015
True Company/Bridger Pipeline's Poplar oil line leaked 32,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri River (and by extension, upstream of Standing Rock). The pipeline was supposed to be buried eight feet beneath the river bed, but after the spill investigators discovered that the pipeline had become completely exposed. And it wouldn't be the first time for the Yellowstone River. In July 2013, an Exxon pipeline also leaked 63,000 gallons of oil directly into a different section of the river when it too became exposed and was damaged by flood debris.
Oil is hard enough to remove from water, but what about when that oil sinks?
3. Kalamazoo River, Michigan: July 25, 2010
In south-central Michigan a thirty-inch pipeline carrying diluted bitumen from Canada blew a six-foot gash along a corroded seam, releasing 843,000 gallons of heavy oil product into the Kalamazoo River. Canadian energy transporter Enbridge, the operator of the pipeline, would ultimately be deemed responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board official comparing the company's spill response to the "Keystone Cops."
Fittingly, the Enbridge spill quickly became Exhibit A in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline which was ultimately rejected by President Obama in 2015. While scientists and activists debated whether or not tar sands bitumen diluted for transport was more corrosive to pipelines than regular oil, another major tar sands pipeline would make headlines.