HOW WAS THE SPILL DISCOVERED?
A landowner spotted the spill Dec. 5. Electronic monitoring equipment failed to detect the rupture, but it’s not clear why, according to Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the pipeline.
The pipeline was shut down as soon as the leak was discovered. Owen said erosion of a hillside might have ruptured the pipe, but the cause is still being investigated.
IS THIS A BIG SPILL?
It’s sizeable, but there have been much larger oil spills in North Dakota. In September 2013, a Tesoro Corp. pipeline break spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into a wheat field near Tioga. That spill is still being cleaned up.
True Cos. has a history of spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. That 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city’s water treatment system.
IS THIS PIPELINE LIKE THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE?
It’s much smaller. The 6-inch steel Belle Fourche Pipeline, built in the 1980s, is mostly underground but crosses Ash Coulee Creek above ground.
It’s one of a network of thousands of miles of similar pipelines that crisscross western North Dakota’s oil patch to pick up oil from wells and carry it to collection points, where it ultimately moves into larger pipelines or railroad tankers destined for refineries across the U.S.
The Dakota Access pipeline is a 30-inch steel pipeline that will carry nearly 20 million gallons of North Dakota oil daily through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.
It is largely complete except for a segment, blocked by the federal government, that’s near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, where it would be buried 90 to 115 feet below Lake Oahe. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners says the line will have modern leak detection equipment, and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely could close valves within three minutes if a breach was detected.
The Standing Rock tribe argues that putting the pipeline under the lake imperils drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions downstream. ETP and other pipeline advocates maintain that transporting oil through pipelines is safer than shipping it by truck or train.