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Pipeline Spill West of DAPL Stokes Fears for Water Security


A 35-year-old pipeline operated by a company with a record of oil spills has released more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a Missouri River tributary about 150 miles west of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, where and uneasy truce reigns between thousands of activists resisting the Dakota Access pipeline and its builders.

Citing North Dakota officials, the Washington Post reports that a segment of the Belle Fourche Pipeline, operated by True Companies, began leaking early in December, contaminating nearly six miles of a creek before it was contained.

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Of the 176,400 gallons of oil spilled, only about 37,000 have been recovered so far, state environmental scientist Bill Suess told the Associated Press, with a crew of 60 clean-up workers advancing about 90 meters a day.

“It’s going to take some time,” Suess said. “Obviously, there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring.”

“True Companies has a history of oil spills, reporting three dozen since 2006,” the Post adds, citing AP. “The Poplar Pipeline, operated by a True Companies subsidiary, leaked about 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana in 2015, prompting a town to shut down its drinking water service to 6,000 residents. [The] Belle Fourche Pipeline has reported 10 oil spills since 2011. Federal pipeline regulators have hit True Companies with 19 enforcement actions since 2004.”

The spill occurred about a 2½-hour drive west of Standing Rock, where tribal water protectors and their allies say that the US$3.8-billion Dakota Access pipeline will pollute water supplies serving several thousand people. (DAPL was originally rerouted to avoid a similar, unacceptable risk for a non-Native community along the line.)

Dakota Access will be five times greater in diameter than the Belle Fourche line that spilled, and capable of carrying 500 times as much oil per day. Nonetheless, the Post reports, its builder, Energy Transfer Partners, insists “that leak detection equipment and the pipeline’s thick steel walls would prevent a major accident.”

However, Calgary’s Enbridge, which has a stake in one of the companies in the Dakota Access consortium, failed to respond to similar leak detection alarms in 2010, allowing a spill near Kalamazoo, MI to gush for 17 hours and become one of the worst terrestrial oil spills in U.S. history.