Activists participate in a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on March 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, which was the subject of international protests because of the threat it posed to both the environment and the indigenous people living along the Missouri River, has already had a leak more than a month before it’s scheduled to be fully operational.

The April 6 leak spilled 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station, and although state officials said the leak was contained and quickly cleaned, The Guardian reports that critics of the pipeline say the spill raises new concerns about the potential hazards to waterways and Native American sites.

Advertisement

Jan Hasselman, an attorney who represents the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, told The Guardian, “They keep telling everybody that it is state of the art, that leaks won’t happen, that nothing can go wrong. It’s always been false. They haven’t even turned the thing on and it’s shown to be false.”

From The Guardian:

The pipeline, scheduled to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois, inspired massive demonstrations in 2016 and was dealt a major blow when the Obama administration denied a key permit for the project toward the end of his presidency. But shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the new administration ordered the revival of the pipeline and worked to expedite the final stage of construction.

The Standing Rock tribe, which has fought the pipeline corporation Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. government in court, has argued that the project requires a full environmental study to assess the risks of the pipeline. But under Trump, who has close financial ties to the oil company, the project recently completed construction by the Standing Rock tribe’s reservation in North Dakota and has been loading oil in preparation for a full launch.

The April spill was first uncovered by a reporter in South Dakota, and Hasselman said that it illustrates the need for the more robust environmental assessment that the tribe has long demanded.

Advertisement

“It doesn’t give us any pleasure to say, ‘I told you so.’ But we have said from the beginning that it’s not a matter of if, but when,” the Earthjustice attorney told The Guardian on Wednesday. “Pipelines leak and they spill. It’s just what happens.”

Brian Walsh is an environmental scientist with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and he told The Guardian that the spill was relatively minor and was caused by a mechanical failure at a surge pump.

“It’s not uncommon to have a small release at a pump station,” Walsh said, adding that the company responded immediately and cleaned up the liquid petroleum. The spill occurred inside a “secondary containment area,” and there were no environmental impacts, he added.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement saying the spill is another sign that the courts should intervene.

“Our lawsuit challenging this dangerous project is ongoing, and it’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen—not just for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and our resources but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk,” he said in a statement.

Neither Energy Transfer Partners nor the state of South Dakota made an announcement about the spill after it happened.

Advertisement

Walsh told The Guardian that the department only releases public notices of spills when there is an imminent threat to a waterway or public health. This was the pipeline’s first spill in the state, he said.

Members of the Indigenous Environmental Network issued statements about the spill.

Joye Braun, Pte Ospaye, Cheyenne River Sioux citizen, wrote:

This leak hits close to home, my home. We have always said it’s not if but when pipelines leak, and to have someone like Richard B. Kuprewicz, a pipeline infrastructure expert and incident investigator with more than 40 years of energy-industry experience, question the integrity and building practices of Dakota Access says something pretty serious could go wrong. That worries me. South Dakota already faces water shortages and our livelihoods depend on water, from ranching and farming to health care. Do we have more spills just waiting to happen? This is our home, our land and our water. This just proves their hastiness is fueled by greed not in the best interest for tribes or the Dakotas.

Those sentiments were echoed by Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Network, who said:

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. The fact that this occurred before Dakota Access even becomes operational is all the more concerning. 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.

Read more at The Guardian.