Chairman Mike Faith, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Chairman Mike Faith, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
March 11, 2019
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith, Jr. released a report today, outlining the shortcomings of a recent Corps of Engineers study on the potential environmental impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Tribe’s report shed light on a litany of violations by ETP/Sunoco, the operator of Dakota Access, and suggests that the environmental risk to the Standing Rock Reservation from DAPL is far greater than estimated by the Corps.
The Corps of Engineers had been ordered by federal judge James Boasberg to prepare an additional environmental study on the impacts to Tribal hunting and fishing rights and the environmental justice impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as to address conflicting expert opinions over the pipeline’s impact. Chairman Faith rejects the findings in the Corps of Engineers’ October, 2018 report. He stated, “We identified important concerns to the Corps given ETP/Sunoco’s alarming spill record, such as the impacts to traditional medicinal plants along the river, and how many of our people hunt and fish for subsistence, and are put at increased health risks from an oil spill. The Corps of Engineers ignored our concerns, once again.”
Chairman Faith also noted the Tribe’s concern with the impacts that an oil spill can have on cultural resources at the water’s edge. “There are many Tribal cultural sites along the Missouri River, and they could be impacted if oil collects at the shore. This has been a concern from the beginning.”
Chairman Faith directed the Tribe’s #NoDAPL consultant team to address in detail the deficiencies in the Corps’ Analysis of Issues report. Highlights of the report include –
- Lack of cooperation by the owner and operators of DAPL with Tribal emergency managers, and a lack of transparency about pipeline operations that could jeopardize Tribal first responders in the event of an emergency.
- Approval by the Corps of Engineers of overly optimistic estimates of the operator’s ability to detect and shut-down the pipeline in the event of an oil spill in the Missouri River as shown disturbingly by ETP/Sunoco’s performance.
- Explicit violations of federal regulations requiring a realistic estimate of the amount of oil that could potentially spill into the Missouri River including erroneous calculations and failure to consider of adverse weather conditions a significant issue in North Dakota.
- Failure to use the best practices of the oil industry in assessing the risk to the environment and to local communities, and in the operation of oil pipelines in floodplains. These best practices were developed precisely to address pipeline companies with serious safety issues such as ETP/Sunoco.
- Lack of effective leak detection to aid in the mitigation of spills and inadequate emergency planning. Leaks under the detection limit could go undetected for days and result in catastrophic releases especially given Lake Oahe’s ice cover for 4-5 months of the year.
The Tribe’s report, entitled Report Addressing Deficiencies in the Corps of Engineers’ Analysis of the Issues Remanded by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Related to the Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing at Lake Oahe, identified numerous failures by the Corps to properly evaluate DAPL and require oil industry best practices. According to the report, the Corps and DAPL have totally ignored the need to plan for oil spill detection and clean-up during North Dakota’s harsh winters. The report explains that, “DAPL’s leak detection system successfully identified hazardous liquid spills in pipeline rights of way only 12 percent of the time… (and) Air patrols were only successful identifying ETP/Sunoco hazardous liquid spills in the ROW 4 percent of the time.” Random members of the public were 4x more successful identifying pipeline rights of way spills than ETP/Sunoco’s highly touted software leak detection system.
The Tribe contends that the Corps of Engineers has failed to learn important lessons from the spill of over 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil in Montana’s Yellowstone River, in January, 2015. The oil spill occurred during ice cover, and oil migrated 59 river miles, and caused the shut-down of the Glendive city water system. Only 5 percent of the oil has been recovered. “The Corps’ failure to address the lessons learned from the Bridger Pipeline spill, and its sloppy attempt to distinguish DAPL from the Bridger Pipeline, reflect the inadequate… approach to the risks posed by DAPL to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
Chairman Faith expressed concern that the risk to the Missouri River from an oil spill from Dakota Access is far greater than estimated by the Corps of Engineers. “The Corps claims that the operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline can detect a leak and shut down the pipeline in 9 minutes, but when the same company’s Permian Express 2 pipeline in Texas sprung a leak, it took 12 days to shut it down. A lot of oil can be released in 12 days, but the Corps has ignored that.”
The report emphasized that the number and magnitude of spills and violations at oil and gas pipelines owned by ETP/Sunoco, the operator of Dakota Access, increases the environmental risk. It explains, “The operators of DAPL have the largest number of spills of any pipeline company in the United States for the last 13 years by a wide margin.”
The Tribe’s report identifies as a serious flaw the failure to provide a back-up power supply to the Lake Oahe shut-off valves, which will be relied upon if there is an oil spill in the Missouri River. The report explained, “If a spill occurred during a power failure, the emergency shut-off valves could not be closed remotely. It would likely take many hours to travel to the isolated valve locations to manually shut the valves - especially in harsh winter conditions.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline crosses the Missouri River less than one-half mile from the Standing Rock Reservation, and it is the Tribe that will be affected. Numerous Tribal agencies are involved in planning and monitoring for an oil spill. The Department of Water Resources is testing for hydrocarbons in the Missouri River, and is planning to develop real-time water testing capabilities to protect drinking water monitoring wells for groundwater. The Tribal Council has established a Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERC), which is developing an emergency plan to respond to an oil spill. And the Tribe is continuing to pursue its lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers in federal court in Washington D.C., to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.
For more information contact:
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe