The Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline project is again halted, as clarified in the decision by Federal Judge Brian Morris Friday Dec. 7, 2018. Based on collective tragic experience emergency management efforts are still underway to keep the people of Cheyenne River safe from an oil release into the Cheyenne or Missouri Rivers.
TransCanada cannot continue with the preparation of pipe storage sites, man camps, or mowing along roadways for rights-of-way until the U.S. State Department conducts an updated investigation of biological, cultural, environmental, civil and other surveys in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Security services are allowed to continue for public safety.
For 33 years “I was a component of the response system,” Harold Tiger said, the Emergency Manager of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST).
Tiger is working with emergency managers from Sisseton, Oglala, and Lower Brule to start an intertribal coalition.
“We’re going to look at all aspects, to train our emergency personnel in their response, and get some hazardous material training. That’s what emergency managers do, try and prepare,” Tiger said. “This coalition is coming together to have a voice with the states in reference to the pipeline, and all other types of hazardous material.”
“There are several aquifers on the reservation that we are looking at tapping to have an extra source of water,” as part of planning for the event of water contamination Tiger said.
Tiger said his Lakota name is “Wiconi Wawokiya, Helper of Life — that is what I have done all my life, either responding [to emergencies] or training people to save lives. I have the inner want to help our people prepare for worst case scenarios.”
TransCanada’s existing 2,147 mile Keystone pipeline system begins in Alberta, Canada and ends in Texas. Keystone has had three large leaks in the U.S. since operation began in 2010 in North and South Dakota, according to a Reuters December 2017 news report. The Keystone system has leaked substantially more oil, more often than indicated in risk assessments the company provided regulators prior to operation.
This includes the leak in Amherst, SD, the seventh largest inland oil spill in the past eight years, according to an April 2018 report from the Associated Press, when 407,000 gallons of oil seeped into agricultural land.
The oil leak contaminated soil and a couple of wells used for drinking water, according to an article titled “Pipelines Leak” from The Intercept January 2018. The spill was nearly twice the amount TransCanada reported on Nov. 16, 2017 when the leak was discovered.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reported that weights installed on top of the pipeline may have damaged the line causing the rupture. The leak was reportedly detected and stopped within minutes.
Leak detection technology TransCanada relies on for safety includes “smart pigs” (pipeline inspection gauges) which provide data on the condition of pipelines by traveling through the pipeline, according to www.smartpigs.net and www.transcanada.com.
Internal pipeline inspection is necessary to prevent massive explosions from high pressures used to move the heavy crude through. Smart pigs detect stresses, including corrosion that can lead to cracks or pinholes in the pipe. They also gauge the thickness of the pipes. This is called “pigging the pipeline.”
According to PHMSA’s findings from the Amherst leak, TransCanada was using smart pig equipment which “passed the site prior to the rupture without identifying any oil leakage from the pipeline at this location,” Alan K. Mayberry wrote in the Corrective Action Order issued by PHMSA Nov. 28, 2017. Mayberry is an associate administrator for pipeline safety with PHMSA.
TransCanada has also been cited by PHMSA for violations in 2015 including failure to inspect the Keystone pipeline system at least every 15 months.
When the leak was made public Nov. 16, 2017, emergency responders and community volunteers in Britton and Amherst secured a wide perimeter around the spill site. Four PHMSA personnel were sent to the site to monitor cleanup.
Public relations claims on twitter.com/TransCanada said the company was working closely with the Sisseton Wahpeton (SWO) Sioux Tribal government and area farmers, who shared the risk of drinking water contamination.
In contrast to their public statements, TransCanada refused to allow officials, including Chairman Flute and the SWO Office of Environmental Protection, to see the spill site or be a part of monitoring clean up efforts because they did not have hazardous material suits or training.
“We have people in DENR [South Dakota Department of Environment & Natural Resources], in Washington, for one reason or another, they’re not being good watchdogs. The risk to the health and well-being of citizens and the environment was minimized from the beginning,” according to CD Floro, editor of Sota Iya Ye Yapi paper in the Sisseton Wahpeton area.
SWO was one of four tribes who filed against TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP and the U.S. Department of State for inadequate surveys and failure to consult with tribes in good faith [in accordance with NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act] during the initial survey and planning of the pipeline in 2007-2009.
On Cheyenne River, “We are creating an all-hazard disaster plan,” working to “create a memorandum agreement between the companies building these oil pipelines. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] is on board to help us set up these meetings” said Tiger.
In the recent federal court ruling, plaintiffs Northern Plains Resource Council and the Indigenous Environmental Network argued that allowing pre-construction activities would “perpetuate bureaucratic momentum” discouraging other federal agencies from rejecting the project or altering the route moving forward. TransCanada states in the filing that “700 American jobs” hang in the balance based on this decision.
In an immediate response to the final ruling, lawmakers in KXL states wrote a letter to President Trump asking him to “double down” on efforts to expedite the project, claiming 6,600 jobs could be lost. Letter signers include 17 senators and 27 representatives according to a Dec. 14, 2018 article in the Billings Gazette.
South Dakota counties could lose $20 million in new property taxes from the project, that could help infrastructure, including schools and roads, the www.sdoil.org website says.
Such taxes would not benefit residents of Zeibach and Dewey counties, where the pipeline will by-pass. However, potential leaks from KXL put CRST people, and land directly in harm’s way.
Morris’s decision states that “when environmental injury is […] likely, the balance of harms will usually favor […] an injunction to protect the environment,” referencing prior rulings that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld.