On Sunday, protesters in North Dakota celebrated as news that the Army Corps of Engineers would not be granting a necessary permit for the Dakota Access pipeline spread.
The next day, North Dakota’s State Health Department spill investigation team was dispatched to the western part of the state — about 200 miles from the protest camps at Standing Rock — to contain a crude oil spill from a different pipeline.
The spill, which was detected Monday, has sent an unknown volume of crude oil into the Ash Coulee Creek. The pipeline is operated by Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., which has reported 10 spills since 2010, totaling 4,848 barrels of oil and costing $2.26 million in property damage. Belle Fourche’s parent company, True Companies of Wyoming, also has a history of major pipeline spills: In 2015, a pipeline operated by Bridger Pipeline, which is owned by True Companies, spilled around 1,200 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana.
In response to the spill, the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, which represents skilled construction workers, including some currently working on the Dakota Access pipeline, released a statement calling for better oversight of True Companies’ pipelines.
“Our members take pride in their work, and we won’t just stand by and allow an irresponsible pipeline operator to harm North Dakota’s natural resources or damage reputation of our industry,” the statement said.
But True Companies is far from the only pipeline company with a history of spills in North Dakota. According to new analysis released by the Center for Biological Diversity, North Dakota has averaged four pipeline spills a year since 1996, costing more than $40 million in property damage.
The potential for a spill was one of the primary reasons protesters at Standing Rock — who call themselves water protectors — opposed the Dakota Access pipeline. The pipeline had originally been slated to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck; the water protectors at Standing Rock contend that the pipeline was rerouted due to concerns that a spill could taint the water supply of communities in and around Bismarck, which is predominantly white.
The rerouted pipeline would instead cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe, a reservoir and the primary supply of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux. Water protectors have used the rallying cry “Water is life” to draw attention to the devastating consequences that a spill from the Dakota Access pipeline could have on their drinking water.
“Pipeline leaks are common and incredibly dangerous, and the Dakota Access pipeline will threaten every community it cuts through,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak. “This pipeline wasn’t considered safe for the residents of Bismarck. It is equally unsafe for the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux. The Army Corps should not be putting anyone’s water supply at risk.”
Proponents of pipeline projects often argue that pipelines are a safer way to transport oil than by rail. And while its true that rail transport leads to more accidents than pipelines — by a margin of two to one, over the period between 2004 and 2012, according to data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — pipeline spills are usually much larger, spilling three times as much crude oil as train accidents over the same period.