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St. Louis concern over Dakota Access Pipeline grows as government stops construction

St. Louis residents, activists and city officials gathered on Sept. 8, 2016, at the Gateway Arch riverfront to express opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Eli Chen
St. Louis residents, activists and city officials gathered Thursday at the Gateway Arch riverfront to express opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A federal judge on Friday denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. But the U.S. Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior temporarily halted construction of the project.


The Army will not authorize pipeline construction on Corps of Engineers land bordering or under Lake Oahe in South Dakota until it can determine if it needs to reconsider past decisions. The three departments also asked the pipeline company to stop construction on other lands.


Meanwhile, some St. Louis officials and activists are banding together to show solidarity with the tribe.


The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is set to be built on a 1,172 mile diagonal from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota down to Patoka, Ill., about 75 miles east ofSt. Louis. The pipeline would cross under the Missouri River in two locations. That has people in St. Louis concerned about local water quality.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is leading the charge against Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which owns Dakota Access LLC. The tribe alleges that the pipeline will contaminate sacred land and water quality. Last weekend, protests over the pipeline turned violent.

St. Louis Aldermen Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward and Megan E. Green, 15th Ward, introduced a resolution todayto inform federal authorities that the city of St. Louis opposes the pipeline.


Ingrassia said St. Louis residents should be concerned, “especially because we get almost all of our drinking water from the Missouri River itself.”


Washington University professor Bob Criss, who teaches hydrology, believes that St. Louis’ water treatment plants likely would take eliminate any contamination in the city’s drinking water system.However, the potential damage to the environment, shouldn’t be underestimated, given recent major accidents, such as the 30,000 gallons of oil that spilled in Ventura, California, due to a burst pipeline in June.  

“The fossil fuel damages to our environment are enormous,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in the last five years more than 7 million gallons of oil have spilled from pipelines in the United States. Most of the spills are incremental, but some have been incredibly damaging, such as the Santa Barbara spill last year that ruined coastal habitats in California.

People in St. Louis have reason to be concerned about a spill happening if the Dakota Access Pipeline is built, said Chris Jones, an energy historian at Arizona State University.


“There is enormous historical precedence of that being a case,” he said. “Federal reports say that a leak happens every day in the U.S. so there is no such thing as a pipeline that never leaks.”

Energy Transfer Partners officialsdeclined to comment. A statement on the company’s website said: “Underground pipelines are the safest mode of transporting crude oil.” It also mentioned that the company performs routine ground and aerial leak inspections at least 26 times annually.

However, company oversight isn’t enough to prevent accidents, Jones said.

“Spilling a hundred barrels is a negligent loss. It doesn’t affect their profits at all,” he said. “Only because of fines and cleanup that they are incentivized to stop doing it.”

Accidents are mainly caused by aging pipes and human error. Municipal governments and civic organizations must place external pressure on pipeline companies to maintain safety along the pipelines, Jones said.

“When people forget about pipelines, that’s when error happens,” he said.

On Thursday, about100residents and activists from groups such as Mobilize Missouri and the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club gathered along the Mississippi River at the Gateway Arch to express opposition to the pipeline.

Alaskan Native Laura Belarbi, a member of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, sang a song from her childhood at the event.

“I think the project just sounds so crazy, like I can’t believe it’s actually happening,” she said.

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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