FACT CHECK: Did the Dakota Access Pipeline spill 580,000 gallons of oil?

FACT CHECK: Did the Dakota Access Pipeline spill 580,000 gallons of oil?

CLAIM: A recent op-ed by Austin Graham in the San Marcos Record in opposition to the use of oil and pipeline development alleges:

The Dakota Access Pipeline has spilled 580,000 gallons of oil into the sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux people. They protested knowing this would happen and were shot with rubber bullets, forcefully sprayed with water hoses and pepper sprayed, but anything for short term economic gain, right?



This opinion piece is a strong reminder that environmental activists often ignore the facts when it comes to the use of fossil fuels and energy infrastructure. Arguments, such as the one propagated in this op-ed, are based on the ideological opposition to the use of traditional energy sources rather than truth and what is actually best for American consumers.

The Dakota Access Pipeline did not leak 580,000 gallons of oil onto the land of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, or anywhere, for that matter. In fact, the project has been safely operating for nearly three years – transporting more than a half million barrels of oil per day from the Bakken region in North Dakota to the Patoka Oil Terminal in southern Illinois.

As GAIN Fact Checker has previously noted, the pipeline experienced five minor leaks when coming into service in 2017 – which is standard when it comes to commencing operations on such projects.

  • The five leaks were considered minor by federal and state regulators and occurred within the pipeline easement at valve sites or pump stations.
  • Three of the five leaks occurred outside North Dakota – 196, 625 and 1,036 miles away from the Standing Rock reservation.
  • Four of the leaks occurred during a testing phase before the pipeline system was operational – and were contained on a protective liner.
  • The spills consisted of leaks of 84, 20, 84, 168 and 21 gallons – so minor that they wouldn’t have had to be reported until recently, when the threshold was lowered from fifty barrels to five gallons.

These facilities are built for minor incidents like these in mind and have infrastructure in place – and have remediation processes to mitigate any potential impact. Pipelines are by far the safest – and most environmentally friendly – way to transport energy resources. In fact, pipelines safely deliver 99.99 percent of fuels transported without incident.

A recent analysis found that rail was “over 4.5 times more likely to experience an occurrence when compared to pipelines.” Shipping oil via pipeline also has environmental benefits, including a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Researchers at the University of Alberta calculated that pipelines result in 80 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than rail alternatives.

The op-ed in the San Marcos Record neglects to recognize the reality that “renewable” energy sources are nowhere near ready to supply the entirety of American energy. Further, without pipeline infrastructure, there would be an increased reliance on transport by truck and rail, both of which are less efficient and present more risk and environmental concerns.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concludes that pipelines “enable the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fueling our economy and way of life.” PHMSA also says pipelines are “one of the safest and least costly ways to transport energy products.” Further, PHMSA says pipelines alleviate the need for other, less safe means of transportation:

“It would take a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to move the volume of even a modest pipeline. The railroad-equivalent of this single pipeline would be a train of 225, 28,000 gallon tank cars”