New Oil Pipeline Leak in North Dakota: Standing Rock Sioux Protest Not Over

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By Glynn Wilson –

The fight against big oil embodied in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is far from over, according to the latest statement issued by Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.

As if to vindicate the tribe’s objections to the Dakota Access Pipeline running right through a fresh drinking water reservoir on the Missouri River north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, another oil pipeline in the state 150 miles west of Standing Rock broke open last week and leaked more than 176,000 gallons of crude into a tributary of the Little Missouri River.

To make matters even worse, state and company officials confirmed Monday that the electronic-monitoring equipment that was supposed to detect a leak totally failed.

One of the promises made to the Standing Rock Sioux in the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline was that the pipeline would be safe and monitoring equipment would quickly detect any leaks and automatically shut down oil flow through the pipe, preventing any major environmental damage.

But in the case of the Belle Fourche Pipeline near Belfield, North Dakota, built in the 1980s to move 1,000 barrels of oil a day, True Companies and its monitoring equipment did not detect the leak. A private landowner discovered the spill after it had already dumped more than 46,000 gallons onto a hillside by the river and 130,000 gallons into the river itself, contaminating at least six miles of the river downstream.

Private company crews were dispatched to turn off the flow in the pipeline and begin cleaning up the spill. But a major winter blizzard and freeze in the area over the past couple of weeks resulted in the river freezing over, so company and state officials now say it may take until the spring until all the crude can be cleaned up.

According to a number of reports on the spill, including this one from the Associated Press published in the Bismarck Tribune, True Companies has a history of oil spills in the region. Three have been reported since 2006. One resulted in the leak of 30,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River.

News out of Standing Rock has slowed down since Sunday, Dec. 4, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deescalated the conflict between protesters and Morton County Sheriff’s deputies by announcing it would deny a request for an easement for that pipeline and consider re-routing it, making a showdown unnecessary on Monday, Dec. 5, between thousands of veterans who had showed up to help and local police. A major blizzard with 40 mph winds that dumped more than a foot of snow in North Dakota and drove temperatures below zero also drove many of the protesters out of the water protector encampments and into hotels and other local shelters.

Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement urging people to evacuate the camps and seek shelter from the severe weather, a temporary retreat in the battle, but he indicated the war against big oil is not over.

“I ask all water protectors to make plans to return safely home when the weather permits, avoid conflict, and pivot your advocacy to holding the government accountable with respect to the EIS and our court battles,” Archambault said. “This is far from over.”

Following last week’s decision by the Department of the Army to not grant the easement under Lake Oahe, he said, the tribal leaders are all focused on important actions to be undertaken in the coming weeks.

The Corps announcement denying the easement and calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement also cited the need for further examination of key issues related to treaty rights, which could include taking a hard look at tribe claims under the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie, which ceded the Sioux territory all the way north to the Heart River.

The Corps also suggested looking at rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline away from the proposed crossing under Lake Oahe, a fresh drinking water reservoir on the Missouri River created by the Corps, although company officials have been adamant that it would be too expensive for it to consider.

“We look forward to this process getting underway,” Archambault said.

Last Friday Archambault said he was involved in a status conference in federal district court to handle scheduling and procedural matters, the day after the company filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it already has all necessary permissions to cross under the lake.

“This argument is legally flawed and we believe that the motion will be denied upon appropriate review,” Archambault said. “Judge Boasberg made it clear that the issue raised by Dakota Access will not be decided at least for many weeks. In the meantime, Dakota Access does not have permission to drill under Lake Oahe.”

In addition, he said, there was a meeting with federal officials regarding the initiation of the EIS. When the process is initiated, it will be published in the Federal Register as a Notice of Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“We will then enter a period of determining both the scope of the EIS and who the cooperating agencies will be,” he said. “Federal, tribal, and state parties with an interest in the project. It is extremely important that the EIS process begin immediately and I ask that all of our supporters are attentive to the proceedings. We must have confidence but ensure that this time around, the process works for us instead of against us.”

Archambault said he will continue to welcome a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump and his Interior nominee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“Nevertheless, it is imperative that we push through as much as we can under the current administration,” he said. “We cannot afford to lose momentum and continue to be on edge due to the Dakota Access presence at the drill pad.”

He also urged supporters to contact the banks investing in this “risky and unsafe project” to make them aware of the terrible acts this company has committed and reconsider their financing.

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© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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