Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Critics of the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines urge President Joe Biden to "Build Back Fossil Free" at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 1, 2021. The protest included a 200-foot-long black snake, representing the threats the projects pose to Indigenous communities. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Critics of the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines urge President Joe Biden to "Build Back Fossil Free" at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 1, 2021. The protest included a 200-foot-long black snake, representing the threats the projects pose to Indigenous communities. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sioux Tribe Withdraws as Cooperating Agency Over Dakota Access Pipeline Threat

"The prospect of an oil spill during such low water is truly scary," says the tribe's Water Resources Department administrator.

Jessica Corbett

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Thursday confirmed that it is no longer a "cooperating agency" for the Dakota Access oil pipeline and demanded federal action to address concerns that a leak could affect Lake Oahe, the tribe's only source of fresh drinking water.

"If an oil spill were to occur today, the plans submitted for remediation at Lake Oahe probably couldn't be implemented."

Janet Alkire, the tribe's newly elected chairperson, warned in a statement that low water levels resulting from "misplaced priorities in the operation of Oahe and the other dams on the Missouri River" could affect cleanup plans in the event of a Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) spill.

"If an oil spill were to occur today, the plans submitted for remediation at Lake Oahe probably couldn't be implemented," Alkire said. "Equipment required for the containment of a spill, even if deployed in a timely manner, could not reach the response zone."

Doug Crow Ghost, administrator of the tribe's Water Resources Department, explained that "roads leading to the river and most access points on the reservation in the vicinity of the pipeline are not usable at the present time."

The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the Dakotas, has long served as a home base for Indigenous-led protests against the controversial oil pipeline that spans 1,172 miles from North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to a terminal in Illinois.

As Indigenous and climate activists along with progressive lawmakers continue to pressure President Joe Biden to shut down DAPL—which began operating in 2017—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a court-ordered environmental assessment expected to be finished this March.

Crow Ghost pointed out Thursday that "Lake Oahe's elevation is 12 feet below what it was two years ago today, but the Corps continues to release water at Oahe as if it is business as usual."

"The prospect of an oil spill during such low water is truly scary," he said.

Alkire called on the Corps to take urgent action to protect the lake.

"The Army Corps must raise Lake Oahe to safe levels or shut down the Dakota Access pipeline immediately," she said. "Our way of life at Standing Rock relies on our water, and we have to protect it."

Don Holmstrom, the tribe's emergency planning consultant and a retired director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's Denver office, echoed the tribal leaders' criticism of Energy Transfer Partners' emergency plans for containing an oil spill.

"Our way of life at Standing Rock relies on our water, and we have to protect it."

"As the tribe's technical reports have detailed, existing plans are inconsistent with Energy Transfer's own spill model, which seriously impairs effective oil spill mitigation," he said. "Spill response under adverse conditions such as a low Lake Oahe water level or the harsh winter environment of North Dakota, including an oil spill under ice, are seriously lacking."

Holmstrom also addressed the tribe's withdrawal as a cooperating agency in the midst of the Corps' forthcoming assessment of the pipeline, highlighting that the Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERC) has never seen a full version of DAPL's emergency plans.

"The Corps has failed to provide the Standing Rock TERC the most recent, unredacted response plans," he said. "Coordination and transparency with the TERC have been nonexistent."

Holmstrom emphasized the importance of accurately estimating how much DAPL oil could spill into the Missouri River if the pipeline ruptured or leaked, saying that "Energy Transfer's worst-case discharge calculations are grossly understated."

"All these flaws weaken an effective oil spill response and place emergency responders and tribal members in harm's way," the consultant warned, adding that "there are many unresolved issues, but the oil continues to flow."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Federal Judge Allows 'Untenable' Plan to Send Juvenile Inmates to Angola Prison

"The move defies all common sense and best practices, and it will cause irrevocable damage to our youth and families," said one children's advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Catastrophic': Arizona Judge Allows 1864 Abortion Ban to Go Into Effect

"No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom," said one rights advocate.

Julia Conley ·


US Progressives Express Solidarity With Iranian Protesters After Death of Mahsa Amini

"The right to choose belongs to us all, from hijabs to reproductive care," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Julia Conley ·


Critics of Louisiana LNG Project 'Hopeful' as Huge Sales Contracts Canceled

"The fight is not over," says one activist, but "from tax breaks to pollution and now to these recent financial downswings, we have all the evidence we need to understand that Driftwood will be a parasite."

Jessica Corbett ·


DHS Officials Urge Biden to End 'Disastrous Leadership' of Embattled IG

In an anonymous letter, the Homeland Security staffers say Inspector General Joseph Cuffari's actions "embarrass the entire agency."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo