A pipeline leak has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek roughly two and a half hours from Cannon Ball, where protesters are camped out in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, as well as environmentalists from around the country, have fought the pipeline project on the grounds that it crosses beneath a lake that provides drinking water to native Americans. They say the route beneath Lake Oahe puts the water source in jeopardy and would destroy sacred land.
North Dakota officials estimate more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into the Ash Coulee Creek. State environmental scientist Bill Suess says a landowner discovered the spill on Dec. 5 near the city of Belfield, which is roughly 150 miles from the epicenter of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps
The leak was contained within hours of the its discovery, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, told CNBC.
It’s not yet clear why electronic monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, Owen told the Asssociated Press.
Owen said the pipeline was shut down immediately after the leak was discovered. The pipeline is buried on a hill near Ash Coulee creek, and the “hillside sloughed,” which may have ruptured the line, she said.
“That is our number one theory, but nothing is definitive,” Owen said. “We have several working theories and the investigation is ongoing.”
Last week, the Army Corp of Engineers said it would deny Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline. United States Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy said the best path forward was to explore alternative routes for the pipeline, something Energy Transfer Partners says it will not do.
Energy Transfer Partners says the Dakota Access pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close valves within three minutes if a breach is detected.
The 6-inch steel Belle Fourche pipeline is mostly underground but was built above ground where it crosses Ash Coulee Creek, Suess said. Owen said the pipeline was built in the 1980s and is used to gather oil from nearby oil wells to a collection point.
Suess said the spill migrated almost 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and it fouled an unknown amount of private and U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway. The creek feeds into the Little Missouri River, but Seuss said it appears no oil got that far and that no drinking water sources were threatened. The creek was free-flowing when the spill occurred but has since frozen over.
About 60 workers were on site Monday, and crews have been averaging about 100 yards daily in their cleanup efforts, he said. Some of the oil remains trapped beneath the frozen creek.
Suess says about 37,000 gallons of oil have been recovered.
“It’s going to take some time,” Suess said of the cleanup. “Obviously there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring.”
True Cos. has a history of oil field-related spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. The 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city’s water treatment system.
True Cos. operates at least three pipeline companies with a combined 1,648 miles of line in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, according to information the companies submitted to federal regulators. Since 2006, the companies have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, most of which was never recovered.
A major oil spill just 150 miles from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota has validated the concerns of those who spoke out against the project for months, activists said.
State officials estimate that more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil has leakedfrom the Belle Fourche Pipeline over the past week into the Ash Coulee Creek in western North Dakota. A landowner discovered the spill near the town of Belfield on Dec. 5, according to Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the North Dakota Health Department.
The leak was contained within hours of its discovery, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, told CNBC.
But when news of the spill reached the Oceti Sakowin Camp — where thousands have protested the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline for months — activists said they felt vindicated.
One of the protesters’ central arguments for months has been that, despite assurances from Energy Transfer Partners — the Dallas-based company funding the $3.7 billion project — an oil spill would be inevitable.
And the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believes that a spill would devastate the Missouri River, which is the main water source for the tribe.
For Tara Houska, a Native American environmental activist who has resided at the camp since August, the oil spill was “yet another example of what happens when you have lax regulations written by oil companies and their patrons.”
“The spill gives further credence to our position that pipelines are not safe,” said Houska, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, a nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness and financial support for indigenous environmental justice. “Oil companies’ interest is on their profit margins, not public safety.”
In an interview last month, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told NBC News that he could not assure the tribe that an oil spill could not potentially occur. Warren would only say that the Dakota Access Pipeline was prepared to withstand such an event.
Warren said the pipeline would cross 90-115 feet below Lake Oahe, a large Missouri River reservoir, with double walled and remote-controlled shutoff valves on each side of the crossing.
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment for this article.
“They can say they have all the latest technologies to safeguard against a leak,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II told NBC News. “But when that leak happens, and it will, all those safeguards will go out the window.”
Archambault said he relayed his concerns to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday night, their first one-on-one meeting since the protests began last summer.
Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Dakota Nation who has been at the camp off-and-on since August, told NBC News that the pipeline spill upstream “shows everyone the necessity to examine not only the Dakota Access Pipeline but all fossil-fuel energy infrastructure development.”
“This should spur us to act,” said Goldtooth. “This should encourage everyone who believes in protecting Mother Earth that we need to examine and critique every fossil fuel project that’s being put on the table.”
Allison Renville, an activist from the Lakota nation, was less circumspect. “We’re winning,” she told NBC News.
“The spill at Bel Fourche, again, is proof that we’re right,” said Renville. “It validates our struggle.”
The Army earlier this month denied ETP the easement needed to continue their path under Lake Oahe, but many activists fear that the decision could be reversed when President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House.
For all of the naysayers who have ridiculed the native people and their concern about the water, here is just what they have been trying to avoid. Another pipeline leak and one near their camp. A couple of months ago there was one in Alabama. After the initial announcement, we didn’t hear any more about it.
What about our water in both of these situations? Talking to the EPA and finding out about about your water may be something you want to do before the Inauguration. Trump will probably destroy the agency. We are at a serious impasse with our environment here on our planet and here in America. Here it is made more dangerous by Trump and his denying of science. Yet we have the entire city of Flint, Michigan that has not had clean drinking water for at least the last two years. Congress is just now appropriating money for Flint.
We need to continue to give the native people our support and prayers that this stand off at Standing Rock comes to an appropriate end for the people and the land. I stand with Standing Rock.