Dakota Access Pipeline Spills at South Dakota Pump Station

UPDATE (May 22, 2017): Since the initial news of its April 4 spill in South Dakota, reports have emerged that the Dakota Access Pipeline spilled twice in North Dakota on March 3 and March 5 of this year.  The AP reports:

Bismarck, N.D. – (AP) — The Dakota Access pipeline system leaked more than 100 gallons of oil in two separate incidents in North Dakota in March as crews prepared the pipeline for operation.

They’re the $3.8 billion pipeline’s second and third known leaks.

A state Health Department database shows 84 gallons spilled at a pipeline terminal in Watford City on March 3. An agency of the federal Department of Transportation reports that 20 gallons leaked March 5 at an above-ground station in rural Mercer County. Both spills have been cleaned up.

The pipeline also leaked 84 gallons of oil at a rural pump station in South Dakota on April 4.

Pipeline opponents say leaks bolster their demands for further environmental review of the pipeline.

Developer Energy Transfer Partners says the North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline is safe.

Spink County, SD – Officials have provided public notice of a leak of oil from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which occurred over a month ago. On April 4, 84 gallons of oil (roughly equivalent to two barrels) leaked at a pipeline pump station in a rural area near Crandon, South Dakota, according to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources Ground Water Quality Program. The Dakota Access Pipeline is not yet operational but company officials claim it will go online June 1.

The Dakota Access Pipeline faced massive opposition in North Dakota, where it’s route goes underneath the Missouri River about a mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation. Indigenous water protectors have repeatedly cited the threat to clean drinking water posed by a potential pipeline leak as well as a lack of consent from affected tribes, among their motivations for fighting the pipeline.

“These spills are going to be nonstop,” Standing Rock tribal Chairman Dave Archambault told ABC news. “With 1,200 miles of pipeline, spills are going to happen. Nobody listened to us. Nobody wants to listen, because they’re driven by money and greed.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe released an official statement responding to the leak shortly after the news broke on Wednesday:

“The Dakota Access pipeline has not yet started shipping the proposed half million barrels of oil per day and we are already seeing confirmed reports of oil spills from the pipeline. This is what we have said all along: oil pipelines leak and spill. Our lawsuit challenging this dangerous project is ongoing and it’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen – not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our resources but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk.” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

The Dakota Access Pipeline being placed in the ground in Morton County, North Dakota on September 13, 2016

Dakota Access confirmed the leak in statements to Dakota Media Group:

Vicki Granado, spokeswoman for the Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners, said the spill was due to a malfunction during the line fill process.

“Before a line goes into service you have to fill it with crude oil first,” she said.

Pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners, claims the spill was entirely cleaned up and contained within the pump station area. Some oil-soaked gravel was disposed of in the nearby Brown County Landfill. State officials said no fines will be issued as a result of the leak.

Brian Walsh of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s Ground Water Quality Program downplayed the significance of the spill and defended his agency’s delay in notifying the public in a statement given to ABC News:

“We realize Dakota Access gets a lot of attention. We also try to treat all of our spills in a consistent manner … We treated this as we would treat any other 84-gallon oil spill … At the pipeline’s pump station there’s what’s called a surge tank, which is used to store crude oil occasionally during the regular operation of the pipeline … And connected to that tank is a pump, which pumps oil back into the pipeline system, and the leak occurred at that surge pump.”

According to pipeline safety expert Richard B. Kuprewicz, the spill, while small in size, does not exactly bode well for DAPL.

“The releases in the pump station are better than having it on the main line. It sounds like it occurred during the process of commissioning the line … 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. They might have been trying to hurry … It shouldn’t happen, but if it did happen, at least it happened in the pump station. They need to figure out why this happened” – Richard B. Kuprewicz, quoted in Watertown Public Opinion, “S.D. looking into Dakota Access oil pipeline leak in Spink County”

The April 4 DAPL spill in rural South Dakota is part of a series of accidents involving pipelines operated by Energy Transfer Partners.  On May 10th, the day of this writing, officials in Ohio fined Energy Transfer Partners $430,000 for health and safety violations after they spilled two million gallons of drilling fluid in a ‘pristine’ wetlands area while conducting drilling for the Rover natural gas pipeline in March.

“State officials say work on the Rover natural gas pipeline since March has resulted in 18 incidents involving mud spills from drilling, stormwater pollution and open burning. One spill affected a village’s public water system. Another accident released millions of gallons of bentonite mud, a drilling lubricant, into a protected wetland area.

Haphazard conditions continued this week when 200 gallons of mud were released in a Harrison County spill Monday.” – Ohio Morning Journal News, “Pipeline builder fined over water, air violations”

In September 2016, an analysis of federal data by the Center for Biological Diversity found that

Energy Transfer Partners, the conglomerate behind the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline, is responsible for 29 pipeline safety incidents since 2006, in which 9,555 barrels of hazardous liquids were leaked … Those spills resulted in $9.5 million in property damage … “

Energy Transfer Partners has recently refused to publicly release information regarding the status of the Dakota Access Pipeline, citing “coordinated physical attacks” as justification for secrecy. (See our March 2017 report on sabotage actions against DAPL and other pipeline projects.) The pipeline company has also withheld certain safety information, such as plans to respond to oil spills, under the same grounds.

On April 24, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for DAPL oil spill assessment reports on the grounds that releasing them would “endanger peoples lives and property.

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