Standing Rock Chairwoman meets with Assistant Secretary of the Army
FORT YATES — Janet Alkire, the Chairwoman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, recently met with Assistant Secretary of the Army (CW) Michael Conner to discuss the environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The Army Corps of Engineers is currently preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine whether to grant an easement for the pipeline. DAPL has continued operating on Corps-administered land, even though the prior easement was vacated by federal Judge James Boasberg over two years ago.
Alkire met with Conner on April 28, and demanded transparency in the environmental review process. “Standing Rock has requested a number of basic documents and plans, such as the oil spill response plan for the Missouri River,” she explained. “We have received no information whatsoever, and the failure to cooperate with our Tribe and our emergency managers is continuing.”
The Corps of Engineers Omaha District originally planned to release a draft environmental study for public comment last month. But Standing Rock withdrew as a Cooperating Agency for the environmental impact study, citing the lack of transparency in the process, and a failure by the Corps to consider the operator’s safety record. That prompted the Civil Works leadership of the Army to announce a “pause” in the process, leading to Alkire’s meeting with Conner.
“None of our concerns with DAPL are getting addressed, and the process is compromised by secrecy,” Alkire stated.
Alkire also called upon the Army to consider the Notice of Violation issued by federal regulators against the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer LP, for violations of pipeline safety rules in the operation of the DAPL. “DAPL is violating numerous safety regulations and the Corps of Engineers must shut down the pipeline, and properly consider these violations in the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement,” Alkire stated.
Standing Rock’s pipeline safety consultant, Don Holmstrom, a retired Director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s Western Regional Office, pointed out that Energy Transfer and its related companies have a history of oil spills and pipeline safety violations. “Over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by these companies experienced nearly 300 spills – three spills per month,” Holmstrom explained. “One-third of these spills were deemed significant by federal regulators, including 50 large spills in High Consequence Areas such as Lake Oahe.”
Since December 2021, Energy Transfer has faced serious federal and state criminal charges, and civil fines for pipeline safety violations on three separate pipelines in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Energy Transfer’s Mariner and Revolution pipelines are subject to 57 separate criminal charges in Pennsylvania, and environmental violations at the Rover pipeline in Ohio resulted in fines totaling $40 million. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which levied the fines, cited Energy Transfer’s “obstructionist conduct” and “flawed corporate culture.”
Previously, on March 25, 2020, federal judge James Boasberg vacated the easement for the DAPL crossing on federal land bordering Standing Rock and ordered the Corps of Engineers to prepare an EIS for the Lake Oahe crossing. The court ultimately left the issue of whether DAPL should be shut down during the EIS process to the Corps, which has refused to do so.
According to Holmstrom, the prior easement contained the “special conditions” designed to protect the Missouri River, and the operation of DAPL without those easement requirements puts Standing Rock at additional risk. “Worse yet, the Corps stood by as Energy Transfer increased DAPL’s oil flow capacity to 750,000 barrels per day – nearly 200,000 barrels per day higher than permitted under DAPL’s easement – all without a valid environmental assessment.”
On July 21, 2021, while the Corps’ study process was underway, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Notice of Probable Violation for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Notice identified numerous violations of pipeline safety regulations, including an inadequate pressure relief system, and non-compliant operations, maintenance and emergency procedure manuals – all issues previously identified by Standing Rock as pipeline safety concerns.
According to Alkire, the Corps should use the “pause” in the EIS process to reconsider the risk posed to the environment from DAPL. She insists that the Corps order the pipeline to be shut down in the meantime.
“The Corps refused to shut down the pipeline in 2020 when Judge Boasberg withdrew the easement, and refused to shut it down last year when DAPL was cited for numerous safety violations,” Alkire explained. “Now that the Army has ordered a pause in the EIS process, the Corps should show us the documents it is hiding, and shut the pipeline down.”