Energy Transfer Partners Spills Oil over Wetlands; Judge Says Companies Can Keep Oil Spills Secret
May 1, 2017
Natasha Geiling / ThinkProgress
Energy Transfer Partners -- the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline -- has spilled drilling fluid into two pristine Ohio wetlands this month. The company spilled as much as 2 million gallons of drilling fluid on April 13, and as much as 50,000 gallons a day later and 100 miles from the first spill. Meanwhile, federal judge has ruled that the pipeline's developer can keep some information about spill risks secret from the public.
Company Behind Dakota Access Pipeline Spills over
2 million Gallons of Drilling Fluids into Ohio Wetlands
Natasha Geiling / ThinkProgress
(April 28, 2017) -- Energy Transfer Partners -- the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline -- has spilled drilling fluid into two pristine Ohio wetlands this month, according to information reported to the Ohio EPA.
The spills were not related to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and instead occurred while Energy Transfer Partners was constructing a different pipeline that would stretch 710 miles from Appalachia to Ontario, Canada, according to the Washington Post.
Drilling fluid is used to cool equipment and is not toxic, but it is often mixed with substances like clay, making it mud-like in texture and viscosity. Environmental groups worry that because of that texture, a large enough spill could essentially smother wildlife and ecosystems in the wetlands.
According to Energy Transfer Partners' reporting to the Ohio EPA, the company spilled as much as 2 million gallons of drilling fluid on April 13, and as much as 50,000 gallons a day later and 100 miles from the first spill.
The spills occurred while Energy Transfer Partners was drilling horizontally under the sensitive water crossings -- the same technique the company used to drill beneath the Missouri River while constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argued that the construction -- and subsequent shipment of oil -- beneath the river could threaten the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, whose lands are adjacent to the river.
In a statement, Energy Transfer Partners denied that the spills would pose a threat to the environment, saying that the drilling fluid is "a nontoxic, naturally occurring material that is safe for the environment," and is used in common products like lotions and laundry detergents.
But the Ohio EPA countered that it was less concerned with the substance's toxicity, and more concerned with the sheer amount, which it feared could "affect water chemistry, and potentially suffocate wildlife, fish and macroinvertebrates."
Earlier this month, a Texas state legislature committee advanced the nomination of Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren to serve on the state's Parks and Wildlife Commission. Warren was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in 2015 -- giving the Dallas billionaire influence over how the state's natural and cultural resources are used -- but is just coming up for confirmation now.
Ruth Hopkins, a Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer, said on Twitter that appointing Warren to the commission was like "giving Darth Vader a spot on the Jedi Council."
Warren, for his part, told the Dallas Morning News that he felt personally victimized by the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
"It was hurtful," he said. "I'm really trying hard to not personalize it, but it's been difficult."
Judge Rules Dakota Access Pipeline Company
Can Keep Spill Risks Secret from the Public
Natasha Geiling / ThinkProgress
(April 14, 2017) -- Despite concerns that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline could threaten the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, a federal judge ruled that the pipeline's developer can keep some information about spill risks secret from the public.
The ruling -- which would permit Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the pipeline, to keep information about spill risks at certain points along the pipeline shielded from the public -- comes after unknown protesters used a torch to burn holes in empty above-ground segments of the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had argued that information about spill risks could potentially strengthen their case for more environmental review of the project.
US District Judge James Boasberg rejected that argument, saying that shielding the information from public view would prevent vandalism of the pipeline.
"The asserted interest in limiting intentionally inflicted harm outweighs the tribes' generalized interests in public disclosure and scrutiny," Boasberg said in his ruling.
Other information, however, will be available to the public, such as how Energy Transfer Partners plans to handle potential spills.
The pipeline's construction has sparked intense public protest from indigenous, environmental, and social justice groups. Last year, protest camps near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation brought tens of thousands of protesters, including military veterans and activists from other countries.
At times, the protests turned violent, with police using non-lethal bullets, dogs, teargas, and water cannons against protesters. As of February, there had been 750 arrests of anti-pipeline protesters, according to the Associated Press.
The Obama administration had temporarily halted construction of the pipeline in December, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a more thorough environmental study of the risks associated with the pipeline.
Of primary concern was the fact that the route of the pipeline was set to cross directly beneath the Missouri River, near the Standing Rock reservation's primary source of drinking water. Any spill, the tribe argued, could threaten their access to clean water.
President Trump swiftly reversed the Obama administration's pause on the pipeline's construction, using executive action to demand that the Army Corps of Engineers review and approve the pipeline "in an expedited manner."
The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes are still currently engaged in litigation against the pipeline, arguing that the Army Corps failed to conduct a thorough enough environmental study of the pipeline. They also argue that the government failed to take tribal concerns into account when approving the pipeline.
Pipeline spills in North Dakota are not uncommon -- according to analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, North Dakota has averaged four pipeline spills a year since 1996, costing more than $40 million in property damage.
Under the Trump administration's proposed budget, the Environmental Protection Agency would face sharp cuts in its enforcement programs, limiting its ability to enforce and penalize companies that violate environmental laws.
When pipeline operators, for instance, violate laws like the Clean Water Act by spilling pollutants into waterways, the EPA is normally the agency that imposes fines on those operators.
Last week, for instance, the EPA and the Department of Justice issued a fine against a pipeline operator in Ohio that violated the Clean Water Act by discharging approximately 1,950 barrels of gasoline from a pipeline into nearby waterways.
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