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State of the Pipelines: DAPL, Keystone and More in 2018

Published on

January 31, 2018

It’s been six months since the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline got the green light to complete its construction, to the detriment of the Dakota Sioux on whose land it’s built, as well as the environment. Here’s what's happened since.

Last year President Trump dismayed environmentalists and social justice campaigners when he paved the way for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a highly contested crude oil pipeline that spans 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. For many months prior, completion was stalled due to concerns that the pipeline runs just half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, under land the Sioux Tribe said was acquired illegally by the government in an 1868 treaty. The tribe argued that the pipeline could contaminate drinking water and damage sacred burial sites. The Native-led protests were the largest since the 1970s and made headlines around the world. Up to 10,000 people protested at one point and celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley vowed to stand with Standing Rock. Despite the protests, the construction went ahead and many people were arrested. More than half the criminal cases from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests have closed, but hundreds more will find out their fate in 2018, according to North Dakota newspaper The Bismarck Tribune. The DAPL pipeline became fully operational in June 2017, with 360,000 barrels of crude oil transported per day since November. To date, the pipeline has experienced at least five spills, according to a report from news organization The Intercept. The biggest leak was a 168-gallon spill in Patoka, Illinois. While federal regulators say no wildlife was impacted, the soil was contaminated, requiring a clean-up. The DAPL connects to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil (ETCO), a former natural gas pipeline converted to move crude oil between Illinois and Texas. The ETCO also leaked at least three times last year, including a 4,998-gallon spill in June 2017 in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

Map showing the location of spills from pipelines crossing the Bakken system, as well as a bubble graph showing the gallons of oils spilled in each of the 8 spills in 2017.

Infographic from The Intercept

Fossil fuel companies insist that pipelines are the safest way to transport crude oil from domestic wells to American consumers. However, spills occur often, resulting in habitat degradation, groundwater pollution, and soil damage. In November, the TransCanada Corp’s Keystone pipeline – the sister project of the Keystone XL, another controversial pipeline greenlighted by Trump  –  leaked an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. The following month the Belle Fourche pipeline leaked around 180,000 gallons of crude into the Ash Coulee Creek in North Dakota. Meanwhile, some of the farmers whose land was used to build the DAPL have concerns ranging from changes in the composition of soil to new flooding risks and reduced crop yield. The ‘thousands’ of job opportunities the Trump administration declared the DAPL and Keystone pipelines would provide also seem overinflated when you consider that most were temporary and approximately 40 full-time permanent operating positions remained after completion. This is an even starker disappointment considering that renewable energy jobs are growing at many times the rate of fossil fuel jobs. As the New Year progresses, regulators and environmentalists are still waging a fierce battle against pipelines, with setbacks for oil and gas pipeline construction in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. You will find a list of other US pipelines in construction here, along with details of action groups opposing them so you can get involved. There is no doubt that as 2018 continues pipelines will remain a pressing environmental concern. So what action can you take? Food and Water Watch put together a list of publicly traded companies that are financing the DAPL, and if you have an investment or retirement account, you’re likely financing a number of those companies. Last year, OpenInvest introduced the first #DivestDAPL investment screen for investors.

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