Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A Fairy Tale, Say the Standing Rock Sioux
By Susan Cosier
Nine minutes. That's the longest it would take to detect a leak and shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) should the crude oil within begin escaping into the North Dakota prairie or the Missouri River. At least that's what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline's owner, says. It's a claim that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe calls completely unrealistic given the company's "inadequate" emergency response plan.
This is just one of the problems examined in a new report recently submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last February approved DAPL's controversial route snaking less than a mile from the tribe's reservation and upriver of tribal lands. In more than 300 pages, the document details many issues that the government never fully investigated when conducting its environmental review in 2016. The report, written by the Standing Rock Sioux and independent experts, delves into treaty agreements, the history of government takeover in the region, the inadequacy of ETP's risk analysis, and how one accident could ruin land, water, and a way of life.
But ETP's assertion that it could shut the pipeline down in under 10 minutes is what the report takes particular issue with—something tribe member Dave Archambault Sr. calls "pure folly" and a "fairy tale." Don Holmstrom, an author of the report who worked with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for 17 years, says that after noticing a break, workers would first have to decide what steps to take to stop the oil from coursing through the steel, an often stressful judgment. Then they must find and close the emergency flow restriction devices one by one, which can take time depending on how much pressure has built up in the pipeline.
Standing Rock Sioux tribe member Dave Archambault Sr.Dave Archambault Sr.
Of course, all that hinges on whether ETP realizes there's a leak in the first place. In reality, oil pipeline leaks frequently don't even register with control systems and operators; a farmer will simply notice a growing stain darkening a remote field and call it in. According to records obtained by the tribe and its technical team, no one at the company would be able to tell something was amiss if less than 1 percent of the 600,000 billion barrels it transports each day was oozing out. That comes to 6,000 barrels―still a lot of oil.
"You have a possibility of a huge leak that goes on over time," said Archambault. He tells me over the phone that he's currently gazing out over a frozen Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River where the Standing Rock Sioux get their drinking water. "Right now I'm looking at the river and you can't see the water. You couldn't see a leak because it's got ice cover."
ETP's own documents state the company has to fly over the land near Lake Oahe every three weeks to look for spilled oil since so little foot traffic exists near the pipeline there. "They know their detection system is not very good, so they need to actually visually inspect," Holmstrom said.
The Standing Rock Sioux and three other tribes continue to fight ETP in court. Ultimately they want the government to shut down the 1,172-mile pipeline that runs about four feet underground from North Dakota to Illinois. To do that, they need to document why a pipeline there is such a bad idea. Before approving the project, the Army Corps didn't exactly identify what's at stake if DAPL ruptures—something the pipeline has already done at least five times since its oil started flowing last June.
In 1958, the Army Corps flooded 56,000 acres of agricultural land and wooded lowlands on which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe once depended as part of the Oahe Dam project Lake Oahe is a result of that project. Holmstrom said that Oahe pools are so close to the reservation, and provide wetland habitat for so many species, that the Corps should have considered it an HCA, or high-consequence area (i.e., a sensitive waterway). Such a designation would have required a more thorough environmental review that identified risks such as potential drinking water contamination, the sickening or killing of wildlife, and the suffocation of vegetation (to name a few). DAPL crosses beneath Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands.
Oahe dam.USACE / Omaha District
The Corps had been on its way to conducting a more intensive review when newly elected President Donald Trump directed it to fast-track the assessment. That move further politicized the DAPL debate pitting industry against the tribe's safety. The Corps granted the pipeline's final permit a month later.
Last June, after the Standing Rock Sioux and three other tribes took ETP to court, Judge James Boasberg mandated that the Army Corps revise its environmental assessment to "more adequately consider" the effect an oil spill would have on the Standing Rock Sioux's hunting and fishing rights, as well as issues regarding environmental justice. He also required that an independent engineering company review whether ETP had complied with federal regulations and instructed the company to file an oil spill response plan. In the meantime, the oil would continue to flow at a rate of about half a million barrels a day.
ETP submitted the third-party review and response plan in early April, even though the tribes argue they still haven't been fully involved in the process. The Army Corps will now meet with all four tribes before June 1 and then complete a new environmental review.
Archambault, for one, hopes the tribe's own report will help push the company to better protect the Standing Rock Sioux's land and people from disaster, one way or another. "What's scary about this whole thing is that it's political," he said, and that "shows you how dangerous this whole thing is."
- Dakota Access Pipeline ›
- Before Royal Wedding Sermon, Rev. Curry Stood With Standing ... ›
- Tree-Sitters Launch 9th Aerial Blockade of Mountain Valley Pipeline ›
- Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Full Environmental Review - EcoWatch ›
- Appeals Court Halts Dakota Access Shutdown Order - EcoWatch ›
People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>