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A #NoDAPL solidarity event in Oakland, California earlier this month. (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

Citing Environmental Risks, Scientists Back Tribes in Dakota Access Fight

Meanwhile, a Reuters investigation finds pipeline spill detection system severely flawed

Deirdre Fulton

Close to 100 scientists have signed onto a letter decrying "inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments" for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and calling for a halt to construction until such tests have been carried out as requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Lead signatories Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, Anne Hilborn, Katherine Crocker, and Asia Murphy drew attention to the missive in a letter to the journal Science published Friday.

"The DAPL project is just one of many haphazard approaches to natural resource extraction that overlook broader consequences of oil development," they wrote.

Furthermore, the open letter (pdf) states, "We as scientists are concerned about the potential local and regional impacts from the DAPL, which is symptomatic of the United States' continued dependence on fossil fuels in the face of predicted broad-scale social and ecological impacts from global climate change." Specifically, they cite the Standing Rock Sioux's concerns that the pipeline project threatens biodiversity and clean water.

Underscoring those concerns, a Reuters investigation into the nation's pipeline system published Friday reveals that "sensitive technology designed to pick up possible spills is about as successful as a random member of the public...finding it, despite efforts from pipeline operators."

In fact, according to the Reuters analysis of U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) data, "[o]ver the last six years, there have been 466 incidents where a pipeline carrying crude oil or refined products has leaked. Of those, 105, or 22 percent, were detected by an advanced detection system."

Even more troubling, the data "shows the leak detection systems have caught small leaks and missed some of the largest," Reuters reports, with six out of the largest 10 pipeline spills in the U.S. since 2010 going undetected by these systems.

Beyond its potential for local devastation, DAPL will make it nigh impossible for the U.S. to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, the scientists said in their letter.

As Bill McKibben said Friday on Democracy Now! of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies: "They're holding the line against something that threatens not only their reservation, but threatens the whole planet. We do not—we cannot pump more oil. We've got to stop opening up new reserves."


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