August 01, 2019

Lakota Leaders Urge a Public Hearing on DAPL Expansion

Kelsey Hill

Currently, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) pumps nearly 600,000 barrels of oil a day under Lake Oahe — the sole source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. A proposed expansion aims to double the pipeline’s capacity. If that happens, the pipeline would transport as much as 1.1 million barrels of crude oil daily. 

Lakota leaders from Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe are coming together to oppose this expansion, citing concerns over safety, transparency, and a lack of adequate consultation. 

“What we can do,” said Doug Crow Ghost of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Water Resources Department, “is get all of our relatives and all of the public to ask the Public Service Commission of North Dakota to hold a hearing.” 

As much of the world learned from the Standing Rock protests three years ago, this pipeline is already hazardous. Doubling DAPL’s flow could double its danger. Please add your name to the call for a public hearing from the North Dakota Public Service Commission before the Aug. 9 deadline.

Neither the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nor the public were given notice that DAPL’s parent company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) planned to eventually expand oil flow during the permitting process, but the company did inform the Public Service Commission of its intent. The fact that the state was notified of the plan to double capacity while tribal communities were not  flies in the face of free, prior, informed consent. 

When asked on a radio show what she thought about the expansion plan, North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she wasn’t surprised at the news, but noted it “certainly it was probably sooner than what I would have anticipated.”

The controversial pipeline’s current oil flow is sold on an international market, and the same will likely be true for oil carried via DAPL should its flow expand.

Pictured above: Charles Walker, Standing Rock Tribal Council 

“This isn’t benefiting Standing Rock, our brother and sister tribes just south of us, and it’s not even benefiting the American people,” stated Standing Rock Tribal Councilman Charles Walker. “It’s going toward corporations.” 

Any DAPL expansion furthers the already grave climate liability of the existing infrastructure. Assuming 95 percent of the oil transported through DAPL is eventually combusted, the expansion project will result in 97,886,550 more tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of building 23 new coal-fired power plants on top of DAPL’s existing carbon footprint.

Considering that our species must achieve net carbon neutrality globally within the next two and half to three decades in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate destabilization, how are the significant additional emissions of the proposed expansion legally, economically, scientifically, and morally justifiable?

“Now we have a situation where it's basically a different pipeline,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and public relations director for Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner. A prominent figure during the 2016-’17 Standing Rock movement, Iron Eyes was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and incitement of a riot during a nonviolent direct action. Those charges have since been dropped.

Pictured above: Phyllis Young, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member

For other leaders of the Standing Rock #NoDAPL movement, like Sacred Stone founder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and Oceti Sakowin camp organizer Phyllis Young, it is imperative that allies stand with the Lakota once again to ensure a public, transparent hearing process. 

“People who have shared in our struggle,” asked Young, also an organizer with the Lakota People’s Law Project, “petition for a hearing on this expansion.”

DAPL’s increased pipeline capacity means a greater potential for more catastrophic oil spills, and yet no information on additional environmental impacts have been presented to the public. 

 “We don't know if the pipeline is capable of handling [it], and I haven't seen any documents to justify that,” Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier told the Lakota People’s Law Project.

Lakota communities have a right to be concerned that an increase in DAPL’s oil flow could increase the possibility of leak and water contamination. Following its completion in 2017, the pipeline has already leaked 11 times, spilling a total of 6,132 gallons of oil. Other pipelines owned by DAPL owners (ETP, Sunoco, and Phillips 66) have leaked 69 times and released a total of 222,474 gallons during the same period.

Pictured above: Harold Frazier, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman

As of now, DAPL and the Army Corps of Engineers’ documents estimate the pipeline’s leak detection capability as approximately one percent of its total daily flow. There are no current plans to improve the leak detection system under expanded capacity. If the flow rate is nearly doubled, leaks of up to 1,100 barrels (46,200 gallons) per day would be undetectable until they resulted in visible surface contamination — signs that could be hidden for days or weeks under thick ice should a leak occur under Lake Oahe when it is frozen over in winter months. 

“My main concern with DAPL is that they've basically disregarded Indian input,” stated Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, located downstream from Standing Rock. “The water comes down through here, our territory, so we have to make sure that the water is clean and stays clean.”

Pictured above: Rodney Bordeaux, Rosebud Sioux Tribe President

It is unclear how doubling the pipeline’s flow rate will impact the risk that oil could seep into the water supply, but there's reason to be concerned, especially considering that the section of pipeline underneath Lake Oahe is at a greater risk of leakage than any other portion of the pipeline. Nearly 600 feet of pipeline were pulled through a horizontal borehole when it was laid under the lake, in one of the longest so-called “horizontal directional drilled” stretches of oil pipeline in the world, placing the seams and welds holding the pipeline together under tremendous stress.  

The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has ruled out any chance that capacity expansions alone increase the likelihood of a spill, and it allows companies to boost the flow as long as they do not exceed existing pressure capacity measurements. However, the Dept. of Transportation doesn’t collect the data to “support or deny whether or not that is actually the case.”

“I'm highly against it,” said President Bear Runner, who traveled to Standing Rock as a water protector during the #NoDAPL stand. “I was highly against it when they just wanted to run oil they're running through there now. We have to hold the United States government accountable. And we have to assert our authority, we need to assert our sovereignty. And that's what the government needs to expect every time they come to us.”

The Public Service Commission is, at least, making an apparent effort to hold a conversation around DAPL’s expansion. The approval process requires the Commission to obtain approval for just 20 additional acres for a pumping station.

Pictured above: Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux Tribe President

An editorial penned last month by the Bismarck Tribune calls for a public hearing for the sake of transparency, stating that “the public should have some assurance the pipeline expansion is safe.” 

Noting the fact that the Standing Rock Sioux were not informed of the planned expansion, and that ETP is trying to push another half-million barrels of oil through the existing line, this proposed increase should cause worry for anyone who stood with Standing Rock in the first place. Furthermore, this prompts an important question: are there any future expansions planned that are as yet undisclosed? 

The Lakota People's Law Project is asking our friends to take action by heeding LaDonna Brave Bull Allard's call: “We are asking everybody to comment by Aug. 9 to the Public Service Commission of North Dakota to request a public hearing," she said.

Your voice can help make this process transparent and ensure ongoing accountability. Please join leaders from across the Great Sioux Nation and use our form to contact North Dakota’s Public Service Commission.


Pictured above: LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member