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Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Environmental Probe of Pipeline Found Lacking

FARGO, N.D. (CN) — The Dakota Access Pipeline faces yet more scrutiny now that an independent research firm has released the results of its investigation into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's environmental assessment for the 1,168-mile oil pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe hired Accufacts, Inc., an independent consulting firm that advises the government on pipelines, to perform an analysis of the Army Corps' initial environmental assessment. The review, released Thursday, revealed multiple deficiencies in the Army Corps' study, including lack of attention to the potential for a catastrophic oil spill. The review also found that the Army Corps failed to adequately evaluate the environmental effects should such a spill occur.

"While the environmental assessment largely focuses on... water crossing activities related to construction... the USACE does not provide appropriate detailed analysis as to the oil spill risks to these sensitive waters," Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts, said in his report.

The report notes that a potential leak could be difficult to find, even if the pipeline experiences a major breach. Kuprewicz found that Dakota Access's assessment of its ability to identify and repair the line in such an event was "overstated and unsubstantiated."

Issues of environmental impact are a leading concern among protestors of the Dakota Access pipeline, which runs from the oil fields in Western North Dakota to Illinois, crossing South Dakota and Iowa along the way. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have taken to calling themselves "water protectors" to express their concerns over the pipeline's potential effect on Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, which are significant sources of drinking water for residents of North and South Dakota.

"Mr. Kuprewicz's findings reflect the common sense point that was somehow lost in the final environmental assessment — that pipelines leak, and that when they do so there are often devastating consequences, particularly when the leak contaminates water," Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, wrote in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army. "The public record is filled with examples which further substantiate this point."

The report also found shoddy pipeline construction, inattention to the impact of potential spills on communities downriver and an underestimation of the risk of landslides. In addition, it raised issues of underreporting the environmental impact when pipeline leaks do occur, which could spur still further questions over the validity of the Army Corps' environmental assessment.

"All too often, worst case pipeline releases are under-calculated as released volumes are seriously underreported, and response plans proven ineffective at recovering anywhere near the amount of oil eventually determined to have actually been released," said Kuprewicz in the report. "Without more information, a proper analysis of worst case discharge claims and associated oil spill response plan effectiveness on sensitive receptors cannot be properly evaluated."

"The law requires a full and transparent analysis of risks like oil spills prior to issuance of a federal permit. It's clear that never happened here," Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Tribe, said in a statement released by EarthJustice. "We expect the Corps to give this new report close consideration as it determines whether to move ahead with the permits needed to cross the Missouri River — permits that Dakota Access didn't have before starting construction of the pipeline."

The Obama administration has taken notice of the outcry against the pipeline, asking Dakota Access to halt construction around Lake Oahe even though a federal judge ruled in the Army Corps' favor in September. Earlier this week, President Obama announced that the Army Corps was considering possibilities for rerouting the pipeline.

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