Background on Dakota Access:
In 2014 Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access announced plans for a 1,168 mile long oil pipeline that would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois (via South Dakota and Iowa) where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. The company also claims that some of the crude oil may be loaded onto rail cars for shipment to the east coast.
Dakota Access has received permits from the Public Utilities Boards in all 4 states, and has used eminent domain in some places to take easements if landowners do not voluntarily grant them. In many states, landowners, tribes and environmentalists continue to push back against this project to try and require environmental review, studies or archeological studies with limited success. In July 2016, the final permit from the Army Corps of Engineers was issued for Dakota Access after Nationwide Permit 12 was used to segment the pipeline into individual projects allowing for a fast track approval without adequate environmental review or public input. Their review ignored the fact that tribes have stated that the surveys conducted on the pipeline route were deeply flawed and inadequate. And furthermore, three other federal agencies all sent letters to the Corps, asking it to adhere to federal policy of consultation, raising environmental justice concerns. Then, just yesterday, Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge announced that, along with Marathon Petroleum, it will make a significant investment in the Dakota Access pipeline.
Construction has started in several places, including along the Missiouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux's drinking water supply. They have set up a resistance camp just across the river from the construction site and the tribe has also sued (represented by Earthjustice) the Army Corps of Engineers for violations under the National Historic Preservation Act and for threatening their livelihoods, sacred sites, and water. The Standing Rock Sioux have led a national campaign to draw attention to the pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River less than a mile upstream of the Tribe’s reservation, imperiling its drinking water supplied and destroying sacred sites. The tribe has launched an international campaign, called “Rezpect our Water”, asking the Army Corps to deny the key permits for the pipeline.
Now a growing number of protesters are objecting to the oil pipeline’s Missouri River crossing a half-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which they argue could threaten the water supply for the tribe and other communities downstream.
Early in the planning process, Dakota Access considered but eliminated an alternative that would have crossed the Missouri River about 10 miles north of Bismarck instead of the route currently under construction.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the Bismarck route and concluded it was not a viable option for many reasons. One reason mentioned in the agency’s environmental assessment is the proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells.
In addition, the Bismarck route would have been 11 miles longer with more road crossings and waterbody and wetland crossings. It also would have been difficult to stay 500 or more feet away from homes, as required by the North Dakota Public Service Commission, the corps states.
The Bismarck route also would have crossed an area considered by federal pipeline regulators as a “high consequence area,” which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe argues that consequences would be severe if the 30-inch pipeline carrying 450,000 barrels of oil per day were to leak near the reservation’s water intake valves. The tribe is suing the corps over its approval of the water crossing. A hearing is scheduled for next week in Washington, D.C.
“We are taking all necessary legal steps to curtail construction on the pipeline until our grievances are heard and resolved in court,” Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said Thursday.
State regulators did not evaluate the Bismarck route because Dakota Access had selected the current Missouri River crossing when it submitted its application in December 2014, said Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak.
A map included in the Dakota Access application has a May 2014 date on the Bismarck route. The proposed route was changed in September 2014 to cross the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation, according to dates on the PSC documents.
Dakota Access said in a statement that the company conducts extensive surveys of proposed pipeline routes to mitigate the pipeline’s impact on the area and determine the safest route.
The corps, which issued a permit for the water crossing, said the pipeline will be installed 92 feet below the riverbed with horizontal directional drilling methods to minimize impacts. The Corps also noted safeguards that will be in place, including remote monitoring of the pipeline and emergency response plans.
“Given the engineering design, proposed installation methodology, quality of material selected, operations measures and response plans the risk of an inadvertent release in, or reaching, Lake Oahe is extremely low,” the corps concluded.
Public Service Commissioners defended their approval of the pipeline project this week, saying it was thoroughly reviewed and considered risks to water bodies. The state regulators also said they held a 13-month review process but didn’t hear these concerns from the tribe.
Standing Rock leaders have, however, repeatedly objected to the way the corps evaluated the route and now are asking a federal judge to intervene.
Pipeline construction is halted in the protest area until the Aug. 24 hearing on the tribe’s court case, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Thursday.
Pipeline opponents also demonstrated late Thursday afternoon near the state Capitol, chanting, “We can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued his first public statement on the protest Thursday, emphasizing safety and stating that law enforcement and state agency directors would continue to closely monitor the situation.
“While we are concerned about some cases of unlawful activity, we are pleased that no one has been injured and it is our top priority to keep it that way,” Dalrymple said.
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