By Anthony Adragna | 06/15/2017 10:00 AM EDTWith help from Esther Whieldon, Darius Dixon, Eric Wolff and Alex GuillénTHIRD TIME'S THE CHARM! Opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline received a major legal victory late Wednesday as a federal judge ruled the government's environmental review of the project was inadequate and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must redo its analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. In his 91-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg said the government "did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline's effects are likely to be highly controversial."But he stopped short of immediately ceasing the pipeline's operation, calling that a "separate question" subject to additional briefing to be discussed at a status conference next week. Tribal opponents of the pipeline, which began operating this month, had failed twice before in legal challenges seeking to block its completion. But they hailed Wednesday's decision: "We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately," Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement.In a statement, the Grow America's Infrastructure Now coalition said the outstanding claims in the case "do nothing to impact the ongoing operation of the pipeline" and expressed confidence the Corps would allay the judge's concerns. "While we have little doubt that the Corps will ultimately be successful in satisfying the Court's concerns, tonight's decision continues the public saga of the project and jeopardizes ongoing infrastructure investment," Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the group, said.
This was wonderful news for the environmental community. Here is the ruling - click here. Luckily, the judge decided that the history of the Environmental Assessment was insufficiently done and needed more consideration. In the "history section" of the ruling, the crucial consideration of an oil spill is discussed as shown below:
After “becom[ing] aware of the proximity” of DAPL to Standing Rock’s Reservation, the EPA supplemented its comments. See ECF No. 209-8 at 123 (Letter from Philip Strobel to Brent Cossette, Mar. 11, 2016). It recommended that the Corps revise the Draft EA and provide a second public-comment period “to assess potential impacts to drinking water and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” as well as “additional concerns regarding environmental justice and emergency response actions to spills/leaks.” Id. Notably, the EPA took some issue with the Draft EA’s spill analysis, stating that although it indicated only a minimal spill risk associated affect water resources. Id. at 124. Given DAPL’s proposed capacity of 13,100 to 16,600 gallons per minute of crude oil and the proximity of drinking-water intakes to the Oahe crossing, the agency explained, “There would be very little time to determine if a spill or leak affecting surface waters is occurring, to notify water treatment plants and to have treatment plant staff on site to shut down the water intakes.” Id. at 125. Finally, the EPA urged the Corps to expand its analysis for purposes of assessing environmental-justice considerations from “the area of construction disturbance” to “the impacts of the proposed project,” and to look at route alternatives. Id. at 126; see also ECF No. 209-9 at 209 (Email “Quick Summary of Conference Call with EPA,” Feb. 25, 2016) (“EPA concerned over the lack of Environmental justice — Tribal interests have not been addressed sufficiently.”)
The concerns expressed in the excerpt are completely normal from the perspective of a resident of the surrounding area. Which raises the following concern:
Why were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so relaxed in their assessment of an oil pipeline traveling underneath a body of water carrying a massive amount of oil per day?
In a blog post from last year, I raised concerns about the scope and scale of the project. The amount of oil projected to travel down the pipeline per day was estimated to be around 470,000 barrels per day. If you are like me then reading the volume of oil transported per day expressed in units of 'barrels per day' is not very useful.
The result of dimensional analysis (unit conversion) yielded that 470,000 barrels per day is equivalent to 19.7 million gallons per day. WOW. To put this into perspective, suppose that a spill occurred over the course of a single day which was undetected -- i.e. underneath Lake Oahe. The amount of oil leaked over the course of a single day would be equivalent just under 2 times the volume of the the historic "Exxon Valdez" oil spill in Alaska in 1989. The total amount of oil spilled was 10.8 million gallons of oil over an area of 28,000 square kilometers.
The volume of Lake Oahe is equal to 7,661,000,000,000 gallons with surface area of 1497 square kilometers. That means that an oil spill of 19.7 million gallons over the course of a day would essentially cover the entire body of Lake Oahe (surface) with a depth varying depending on the crude oil composition. Which would essentially ruin the entire body of water.
The same Lake Oahe which serves as a source of water for the entire region of both Indian Tribes. Oh my goodness. And to think that the oil company almost made it through without a more in depth environmental assessment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Thank goodness for the judge in this case.
Where does the case go from here?
Stay tuned for more breaking news on this critical matter for the residents of Lake Oahe.
I would hope that in addition to assessing the environmental impact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demand that better sensor technology is installed on the pipeline to yield more information on the integrity of the pipeline over time and various environmental conditions. The technology is out there. Furthermore, improvements to sensor technology are being made constantly. The difficult part of the data obtained is to "mine the data" efficiently to yield the safety results required to mitigate a future oil spill. This ruling is one step toward that improvement. Thank goodness for level headed judges in this case.
Until next time, have a great day.