The major protests may be over for now, but a recent spill reminds us that all the issues have not been resolved. The 1,172-mile pipeline between the Bakken oil fields and Illinois is not yet operational -- that's set for June 1. Still, President Trump green-lighting the project shortly after taking office had tamped down the opposition substantially -- until now.
A small spill at a not-yet-operational pumping station released 84 gallons onto Dakota Access's own property near rural Tulare on April 4. It was immediately cleaned up and was entered into the South Dakota Department of Environment and National Resources' searchable database on April 6.
Yet no public announcement was made by the South Dakota DENR or Energy Transfer Partners.
The DENR environmental scientist who reviewed the spill told the press that no public announcement was made because the spill posed no threat to public health or any waterway. Moreover, Dakota Access had promptly reported it and cleaned it up.
"This spill serves as a reminder that it is not a matter of if a pipeline spills, it's a matter of when a pipeline spills," said a spokesperson for the Indigenous Environment Network.
"The fact that this occurred before Dakota Access even becomes operational is all the more concerning," he added. "We fear more spills will come to bear, which is an all-too-frequent situation with Energy Transfer Partners' pipeline projects. As such, eyes of the world are watching and will keep Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners accountable."
Although the DENR understands the level of attention the pipeline is under, the environmental engineer said the agency seeks "to treat all of our spills in a consistent manner," he told the Star Tribune. "We treated this as we would treat any other 84-gallon oil spill."
That may not be enough to prevent more protests and lawsuits. A member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe stressed that South Dakota is already facing water shortages and that water is a mandatory part of farming, ranching and other industries, including healthcare.
"Do we have more spills just waiting to happen?" she asked. "This is our home, our land and our water."