FACT CHECK: Truthout Falsely Reports DAPL Leaked Toxins Into Standing Rock Water Supply Five Times Within First Six Months Of Operation

An op-ed recently published in Truthout demonstrates how environmental activists sometimes play fast and loose with the truth when making their case against pipelines. Author Violet Glaser includes this inaccurate sentence in her opinion piece:

The Dakota Access Pipeline leaked toxins into the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux five times within the first six months of its construction. 



There’s a lot to unpack in those 25 words:

  • The five leaks were considered minor by federal and state regulators and occurred within the pipeline easement at valve sites or pump stations.
  • None of the five leaks released toxins in the water supply, as The Intercept notes here.
  • In fact, three of the five leaks occurred outside North Dakota – 196, 625 and 1,036 miles away from the Standing Rock reservation, making it impossible that the water supply was in any way threatened.
  • 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.

North Dakota regulator Bill Suess puts that in perspective:

“A tanker truck rolls over and spills 7,000 gallons of crude oil, and nobody pays attention. Twenty gallons spill on DAPL, it makes world news, so it’s kind of funny,” he told The Intercept.

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 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.”