Nov 22 For months, North Dakota's Standing Rock
Sioux tribe has been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline's
planned crossing under the Missouri River, adjacent to their
lands, in part due to worries about contamination of their
primary water source.
As of early next year, however, the Native American tribe
will be gathering their water 70 miles (113 km) downstream of
the oil pipeline's location, thanks to a long-awaited water
The reservation, which spans North and South Dakota,
currently gets water 20 miles away from the pipeline's planned
While the scope of contamination of a future oil leak is
difficult to predict, the distance from the pipeline to the new
intake could reduce widespread contamination risks, regulators
and environmental analysts said.
The Standing Rock Sioux say the new supply point is not
enough to ease their concerns over the pipeline. The developer
behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners LP, has
vowed not to reroute the line.
"Just because the new intake is 70 miles away doesn't mean
our water is still not threatened," said David Archambault,
chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The project, which has received little attention in the
months-long fight over the Dakota Access pipeline, has been a
goal for the Sioux for more than a decade. It was first funded
The $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline is intended to carry
oil from North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of
Mexico. The tribe and climate activists have been protesting for
months; a final decision has yet to be reached.
COMPLEX RURAL PROJECT
The Sioux received about $30 million from the 2009 American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build a new water treatment
plant, pump station, 5 million-gallon storage tank and several
pipelines to feed fresh water to roughly 10,000 reservation
The project has taken years to complete, but federal
officials say the timeline was not affected by the Dakota Access
The existing intake valve is located in a shallow part of
the Missouri River near Fort Yates, North Dakota, roughly 20
miles from the planned pipeline river crossing.
The new valve in Mobridge, South Dakota, 70 miles from the
pipeline route, came online earlier this year. Once the pipeline
system is completed, it will service the entire reservation,
according to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of
The Missouri River typically moves at about 5 to 8 miles per
hour in the upper Midwest, meaning it would take nine to 14
hours for oil to reach the tribe's new intake valve.
"The new intake really does effectively reduce the concerns
that this oil pipeline could impact the tribe's water supply,"
said Julie Fedorchak, head of North Dakota's Public Service
Commission, which gave state approval to the pipeline.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would not speculate
on how a leak could affect the new water system. "Circumstances
related to oil releases can vary significantly," said EPA
spokesman Richard Mylott.
State officials have repeatedly said they believe the
pipeline poses few safety risks.
Regional and federal regulators look to a recent spill as
instructive for Standing Rock. In January 2015, an oil pipeline
leaked more than 1,000 barrels into the Yellowstone River near
Glendive, Montana, forcing officials to flush the city's water
treatment pipes after tests revealed hydrocarbons in the water
That would be ominous for the tribe were the Fort Yates
intake value to remain, even though Fedorchak and other
regulators note the Dakota line is to be buried 92 feet (28 m)
below the riverbed in hard clay.
Following the Montana leak, water quality tests in
Williston, N.D., roughly 80 miles downstream, showed its water
supply was not polluted, as it was able to close intake valves
Tribal officials said the danger remains. They also say the
project's construction has already damaged historical sites with
religious significance to the tribe, and further construction
could cause more destruction.
"If this pipeline breaks, it's not only going to pollute our
drinking water, but destroy the environment," Archambault said.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Marguerita Choy)