It was a small spill, cleaned up immediately, posing no threat to waterways. But that was little consolation to the indigenous people and others who spent months confronting militarized police while opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The $3.8 billion pipeline, even before it was fully operational, already sprung its first leak.
Early April saw an 84-gallon leak inside a rural pump station, immediately contained by a plastic liner and containment walls, according to the Associated Press. It was cleaned up very quickly and did not damage any waterways, the North Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources told AP. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) spokesperson Vicki Granado told AP in a statement that the oil "stayed in the containment area as designed."
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose opposition to the route a half-mile from its reservation sparked months of live-in protests at water protector camps, said the incident proved that the project needs more environmental scrutiny.
“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,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement. “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 also for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk.”
The leak, equivalent to two barrels of oil, occurred 100 miles east of the Lake Oahe reservoir section of the Missouri River, which is the tribe’s water supply. Granado told Reuters that the spill occurred in a designated containment area on April 4 while the pipeline was being readied for operation. This did not reassure indigenous and environmental activists, especially given the recent censure of ETP in Ohio for a two-million-gallon drilling-material spill that contaminated wetlands.
“This spills serves as a reminder that it is not a matter of if a pipeline spills, it’s a matter of when a pipeline spills,” said Dallas Goldtooth, Keep it in the Ground Campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement in response to the DAPL incident. “The fact that this occurred before Dakota Access even becomes operational is all the more concerning. We fear more spills will come to bear, which is an all too frequent situation with Energy Transfer Partners pipeline projects. As such, eyes of the world are watching and will keep Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners accountable.”