The DEIS lacks transparency
The Corps has withheld basic information that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe needs to evaluate the serious health and safety risks of DAPL. It provided some documents with important information redacted, even though the tribe needs that information to properly respond to emergencies as a local first responder. Alkire has written a pointed letter to the Corps detailing some of the most serious transgressions throughout the DAPL review process:
“We have received none of the information requested about emergency plans to address an oil spill, the modeling of oil spill impacts on our reservation, or other documents related to safety of the pipeline…. The refusal to disclose the worst-case discharge and unreacted Facility Response and Geographic Response Plans puts the lives of tribal first responders at risk during an oil spill response…. We have been living with an unsafe pipeline operated by criminals for almost six years. Justice for Standing Rock is long overdue.” A particularly egregious example is the information on modeling of the worst-case oil spill, much of which has been redacted so that the model predictions cannot be independently verified.
The DEIS waves away climate impacts
The Corps completely fumbled its duties on the climate front within this long-awaited court-mandated review. The climate change section suffers from the same structural issue observed throughout the DEIS as a whole—primarily, its inappropriately narrow scope of project impacts.
To start, the agency largely writes off most major indirect climate impacts—principally, downstream combustion—as inevitable, out of its control, and thus irrelevant to the Corps’s decision. The resulting analysis focuses only on temporary construction impacts, which the Corps still doesn’t even estimate. These are so minor, relative to DAPL’s overall lifecycle emissions, that by privileging the construction impacts, the Corps leads itself to an utterly backward conclusion: It claims that removing the pipeline would somehow be worse for the climate.
Finally, the agency falls short of even the lowest Trump-era standards for assessing climate impact significance by neglecting to compare the emissions it does estimate to any reference level for interpretation, as is typically the bare minimum. And while the Corps does estimate the social cost of carbon, it only reports annual values, greatly minimizing the true impacts of a project built to operate for many decades. Regardless, even the annual estimates are still massive: hundreds of millions of dollars in damages each year that the operation continues.
Although de-emphasized, the DEIS eventually acknowledges that DAPL could be responsible for moving enough oil to unleash more than 120 million metric tons worth of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions each year that it operates. The latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculator suggests this is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 27 million passenger vehicles on our roadways, or about 10 percent of the current size of our nationwide fleet. The international community of scientists and policy experts has been beyond clear: We cannot afford to continue running our energy system this way.
Oil spill risks
The reliability and safety sections of the DEIS for DAPL’s crossing under Lake Oahe begins with: “The transportation of crude oil by pipeline has inherent risks to the public and environment. The greatest hazards are (1) a major pipeline rupture, resulting in considerable contamination of the environment, and (2) a fire or explosion resulting from a major pipeline rupture.” Details provided by the Corps in the document reinforce the significance of potential accidents at DAPL; for example, when hydrocarbons “settle in valleys and low-lying areas, forming pockets of flammable material at or near the ground surface.” The DEIS explores several accident scenarios, such as: “After filling the HDD profile, oil would reach a valve site and follow the downward slope into the lake. If repair and remediation attempts were to release crude into Lake Oahe, an immeasurable amount of soil contamination around the pipeline would occur.” The horizontal directional drilling (HDD) profile is the channel for the pipeline that was bored directly beneath and across Lake Oahe, even as protests and violent responses to these actions unfolded nearby in 2016.