After the long struggle of the Lakota Oceti Sakowin Standing Rock Sioux people and their Native and Euro-American allies against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) put the line into commercial operation on June 1, 2017. There was little fanfare or news in the mainstream media, other than this short account from The Associated Press:
The partial operation has already begun, and so have oil spills. The spill of April 4* involving 84 gallons in Crandon, South Dakota is well-known. Two spills in North Dakota, March 3rd, 84 gallons in Watford City attributed to a flange failure on a tributary pipeline, and March 5th, 20 gallons blamed on failure of an above-ground valve due to a manufacturing defect in rural Mercer County, were not revealed to the press and public until late May, when The Associated Press broke the story:
One of the reasons it took so long to discover these leaks is that the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) only regards leaks of five barrels (220 gallons) or more as a “significant pipeline incident,” except in the event of a fatality, serious injury, fire, evacuation of 25 or more people, or other specific conditions. The reporting requirement is waived if the incident does not meet this threshold.
The requirements are here:
Besides the obvious disappointment of having worked hard for a goal, and then seeing the exact opposite result, Illinois environmental and social justice activists were greatly disturbed by this development.
Frank Esposito, who went to Standing Rock for two extended periods in the autumn of 2016, and who has described his experience there to several concerned groups in the Chicagoland area since his return, commented on these leaks:”This is the exact reason why I joined tens-of-thousands of Water Protectors at Standing Rock to fight Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) in trying to push through this for-profit, private oil pipeline through Treaty land using legal trickery and paid-off politicians. I knew it would leak because It is not IF, but WHEN a pipeline will leak. All pipelines leak and the DAPL is no exception. The latest reported leaks are simply a validation of why we fight DAPL.”
“As long as our society allows this kind of reckless contamination of the only home we have, Mother Earth, our society will continue to suffer. A pipeline that crosses the source of drinking water for 18 million which has already leaked before going operational is an example of how our priorities need to change. We must protect our planet for human society, period.”
Another Chicago-area activist who made the journey to Standing Rock, Daniel Rosenberg, expressed the frustration many activists share with the lack of transparency by ETP:
“It is in no way surprising to discover these leaks; this is precisely what we expected. What is particularly troubling is how much ETP is lacking in the arena of transparency. These leaks wouldn’t have been discovered if not for the dedicated research of the citizenry. ETP, it seems, doesn’t care for the safety of the land and the water as much as its own reputation. One can’t help but wonder how this will all play out once the pipeline is turned on, but one thing is clear: the safety of our people is not the prime concern of ETP. It’s crucial, then, as citizens, we continue to monitor and be prepared for any leaks or spills and prepare ourselves to respond. It’s an unfortunate reality, but if ETP and the government are not going to protect the land and the water, we must do so ourselves.”
Laura Sabransky, an Illinois 2016 Bernie Sanders delegate and climate justice activist from Chicago, https://www.facebook.com/laura.sabransky reminded us of leaks to other pipelines:
“Almost every day, there is a major oil spill or pipeline rupture in the United States, including Keystone Pipeline’s record 12 leaks within its first year, and Enbridge’s 1.1 million gallon spill into the Kalamazoo River. It is indisputable that any new pipeline – including the Dakota Access – puts the health, livelihoods, food and water of U.S. families at risk.”
Another Chicago environmental activist, Ivy Czekanski, reminded us of how powerless activists can feel after such a struggle:
“All pipes leak. Pumping stations and river crossings are particularly prone to leaks and that is the reason that Water Protectors became a global movement calling for scrutiny over the Missouri and Mississippi River crossings for DAPL. Landowners in Illinois and Iowa called for additional protection, and they were ignored. Three federal agencies called for care regarding tribal land, and they were ignored as well. Millions of Americans called and emailed their comments to the White House and the Governor of North Dakota, and we were all ignored. The entire world deserves a response from Energy Transfer Partners and from PHMSA, and revocation of these permits before another pipeline disaster is allowed to occur.”
Lastly, there is still a struggle going on in North Central Illinois, this against the twinning of the existing Enbridge Line 61 pipeline. Key leaders of the anti-pipeline movement in that area, Sandra and Dave Davis, saw the parallels between these struggles:
“Thanks to the awakening of the public and vigilance on the part of ordinary citizens, the inevitability of oil pipeline spills and disasters is now clear. These dangers, coupled with the evidence that the goal of three major pipeline companies (TransCanada, Energy Transfer, and Enbridge), is to export North American fossil fuel natural resources, along with the overwhelming scientific confirmation of our climate crisis, send a clear signal that we must cease all current and future fossil fuel infrastructure projects.”
Even though the oil will start flowing at commercial levels today, this is not the end of the road for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and certainly not for others, such as Enbridge Line 61. Frank Esposito, quoted above on the leaks, had this to say on the current status:
“Stopping this pipeline is still a priority. There are ongoing lawsuits and an ongoing divestment movement. ETP is not to be trusted with the safety of Mother Earth. Pipelines are not safe; it is not if, but when, they will leak. We must continue to fight for a complete shut down of this pipeline and force the corporations who fund the destruction of Mother Earth to stop investing in 20th-century technology. So for Mother Earth, for human life, for the rights of a sovereign nation and most of all for the water, we must continue to fight this and all other pipelines because of Mni Wiconi.”
With this determination for the future shown by Frank Esposito and by the Davises, and by all the activists I contacted, while political circumstances have given the extractors and transporters of fossil fuels a temporary advantage, it is my belief that the activists and Mother Earth will eventually prevail. Whether this will be in time to save us from the horrendous results of global climate change is, unfortunately, an open question.