On Monday, North Dakota state officials reported that an oil pipeline just 150 miles away from the Dakota Access Pipeline protest site has ruptured, spilling more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a hillside and a tributary of the Little Missouri River. The Belle Fourche Pipeline runs west of Cannon Ball, ND, where thousands of peaceful protesters have spent months resisting efforts to drill a separate pipeline project under the Missouri River, thus endangering the downstream water supply with leaks such as this one.
The Belle Fourche Pipeline started leaking earlier this month near the town of Belfield, where six miles of Ash Coulee Creek were contaminated before a local landowner spotted the spill. Oil company workers were quick to contain the spill, according to Bill Suess, an environmental scientist from the North Dakota Department of Health, but the initial cause is still being investigated. The spill flooded the creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River, with around 130,200 gallons of oil while the remaining 46,200 gallons spilled onto a hillside, where it will devastate the ecosystem for years to come. Seuss said about 37,000 gallons of oil have been recovered so far and reportedly no water supplies have been contaminated. The company so far has admitted that its electronic monitoring equipment failed to detect the leak early, a failure that contributed to a much larger spill.
With snow falling and temperatures dropping, the cleanup efforts have been slow going. Right now, crews of 60 workers are cleaning an estimated 100 yards per day, and it will be months before the response is complete. In the meantime, the oil will sink into the ground, flow through the creek, and wreak untold damage on the local wildlife and flora. A quick internet search reveals that True Companies, the pipeline operator, has had several leaks in the past on this and other lines, including the January 2015 spill which sent 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River and a 32,000-gallon spill near Glendive, Montana, which was discovered after oil was found in the city’s water treatment system. A 21,000-gallon leak in August, also near Belfield, barely made headlines. Over the past 10 years, True Cos. have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, and most of that has never been recovered.
Just 150 east of this oil spill is the front lines of defense for the Standing Rock water supply, which is under threat from continued construction on the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline which, if developers push forward with their original plans despite the absence of a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, would bore under the Missouri River. Developers have already announced they have “no plans” to reroute the pipeline and it has been widely suggested that the project could receive an enthusiastic green light once Donald Trump’s presidential administration officially begins January 20, 2017. Trump has already publicly declared his support for DAPL, all the while trying to minimize the ramifications of his own financial investment in the destructive fossil fuel project.
Via Washington Post