Miles from Standing Rock, Pipeline Rupture Spills Unknown Amount of Oil in North Dakota Waterway


By Claire Bernish at


As the battle to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline kicks up a notch, news of yet another water body contaminated by an oil spill — this one just 200 miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation — reinforces the legitimacy of the movement to protect water from Big Oil.

Belle Fourche Pipeline Company shut down its six-inch crude pipeline after oil leaked into Ash Coulee Creek in Billings County, in western North Dakota, not geographically distant from where the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of water protectors are enduring deteriorating winter conditions in camps near the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe reservoir.

“A series of booms have been placed across the creek to prevent downstream migration and a siphon dam has been constructed 4 miles downstream of the release point,” said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health, reported the Duluth News Tribune on Tuesday.

According to the Bismarck Tribune, the state’s Department of Health sent investigators to the scene on Monday and Tuesday as frigid temperatures, high winds, and wintry conditions gripped the area, in an attempt “to contain an oil pipeline spill that has impacted about 2.5 miles of the Ash Coulee Creek and a tributary creek in the badlands.”

Ash Coulee Creek empties into the Little Missouri River 20 miles from where the leak occurred — but officials claimed they ‘doubt’ spilled crude would extend that far.

No estimates of the volume or impact of the crude spill have been announced as this article goes to publication, but any contamination with toxic crude can have devastating impacts on sensitive ecosystems — particularly if the spill isn’t contained hastily.

Oil, gas, and pipeline companies insist pipelines are the safest means — versus rail, boat, and tanker truck — to transport crude and other petroleum types. While this might be technically true, regulatory inadequacies, aging infrastructure, and other issues indicate otherwise.

Indeed, with greater infrastructure already in place, oil transport by rail could be updated for increased safety far more cheaply and readily, making the construction of new pipelines redundant, inefficient, dangerous, and contentious — particularly with the necessity of moving away from the use of fossil fuels. A growing movement — including those fighting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — justifiably believe no safe method to transport oil currently exists and thus should be ‘left in the ground.’

In fact, oil pipeline spills and leaks occur with alarming frequency, given the appallingly toxic ramifications on human health, the environment, and the nation’s drinking water supplies — and Belle Fourche is no exception. As EcoWatch reports,

“The Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is part of the family-owned True companies, which also operates Bridger Pipeline LLC. Both pipelines are operated from the same control room in Casper, Wyoming. From 2006 to 2014, Belle Fourche reported 21 incidents, leaking a total of 272,832 gallons of oil. Bridger Pipeline recorded nine pipeline incidents in the same period, spilling nearly 11,000 gallons of crude. […]

“A Belle Fourche pipeline that spilled 12,200 gallons in May, 2014 occurred on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Buffalo, Wyoming. It was later discovered that Belle Fourche did not have a permit to operate the land. Its sister company, Bridger, was fined $27,029 for trespassing by the BLM.”

CityLab, which recently mapped 30 years of ‘significant’ oil pipeline spills and leaks, noted, “data from the federal government suggests such concerns should be taken seriously. Over the last twenty years, more than 9,000 significant pipeline-related incidents have taken place nationwide, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The accidents have resulted in 548 deaths, 2,576 injuries, and over $8.5 billion in financial damages. (Not counted in this total are thousands of less ‘significant’ pipeline-related malfunctions.)”

As Suess, of the North Dakota Department of Health, explained, this spill came from an above-ground section of pipeline, and though the cause remains unclear, nearby construction is being investigated as a possibility.

“We don’t think it was leaking real long,” he asserted. “The landowner detected it fairly rapidly.”

Belle Fourche has received six warnings concerning pipeline integrity and safety issues from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, reports the News Tribune.


Standing Rock Sioux water protectors received a brief reprieve on Sunday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would perform a lengthier environmental impact study and consider rerouting before granting Energy Transfer Partners an easement to route the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River.

But that symbolic win turned to familiar disappointment when ETP and Sunoco Logistics, currently in the midst of a merger, issued a statement hours later vowing it would not reroute the pipeline and construction would continue unhindered, stating,

“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Around Standing Rock, unconfirmed reports claimed ETP has already completed much of the drilling under Lake Oahe and planned to continue drilling and accept fines imposed for going ahead with construction on Army Corps-managed land without appropriate permitting.

Following a nasty blizzard in the area Monday and Tuesday, a bit of division erupted in Standing Rock as to the future of opposition to Dakota Access — and although some water protectors have since left the Oceti Sakowin main camp, many others vowed to stay until construction permanently halts.


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