For nearly two years now, activists, environmentalists, and native peoples have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, insisting that the project places sacred land and water at risk of contamination as it snakes past the Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands in South Dakota.
On Wednesday, those fears were given a measure of legitimacy when it was reported that a section of the pipeline had, in fact, already leaked dozens of gallons of crude oil.
According to the Associated Press, some 84 gallons of oil leaked from a pump station in northeast South Dakota in April. The leak happened approximately 100 miles from the Lake Oahe water reservoir, where most of the #NoDAPL protests were focused. While the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources did reportedly record the spill in its online database, a representative from the agency told the AP that the relatively small amount of oil spilled, its location, and the fact that there was no immediate major environmental risk did not warrant a dedicated release notifying the public of the leak.
“We realize Dakota Access gets a lot of attention. We also try to treat all of our spills in a consistent manner,” DENR scientist Brian Walsh explained. “We treated this as we would treat any other 84-gallon oil spill.”
Speaking with the Dakota Media Group, a representative from Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, explained that the spill was the result of a malfunction during a test.
Still, for opponents of the Pipeline, April’s spill is proof that the pipeline poses a real risk to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“These spills are going to be nonstop,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault told the AP. “With 1,200 miles of pipeline, spills are going to happen. Nobody listened to us. Nobody wants to listen, because they’re driven by money and greed.”
Lawsuits brought by the tribe to stop the pipeline’s ongoing construction have, to date, been unsuccessful.
Energy Transfer Partners is currently involved in another fight after spilling millions of gallons of drilling mud used to lubricate its equipment in Ohio for another construction project. Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency director Craig Butler has already imposed $400,00o in fines against the company. While the leaked lubricant isn’t toxic, Butler has said that the size and consistency of the spill could “kill just about everything in that wetland” where it occurred.