REPRESENTATIVES FROM Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, traveled to Cambridge, Iowa, in October to present a series of $20,000 checks to emergency management departments in six counties. The money was, in part, an acknowledgement of the months of anti-pipeline protests that had taxed local agencies during construction, but it was also a nod to the possibility of environmental contamination. One of the counties had pledged to use its check to purchase “HazMat operations and decontamination training/supplies.” Less than a month later, in Cambridge, the Iowa section of the Dakota Access pipeline would experience its first spill.

According to the standards of most state environmental agencies, it was a small spill that wouldn’t require much attention from emergency managers. On November 14, “excessive vibration” caused 21 gallons of crude to leak out of a crack in a weld connection at one of the pump stations, which are situated along pipelines to keep the product moving and monitor its flow. Since the leak was contained at the site, it went unreported to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, although it did make it into a federal pipeline monitoring database.

The Dakota Access pipeline leaked at least five times in 2017. The biggest was a 168-gallon leak near DAPL’s endpoint in Patoka, Illinois, on April 23. According to federal regulators, no wildlife was impacted, although soil was contaminated, requiring remediation. DAPL went into operation on June 1, along with its under-the-radar sister project, the Energy Transfer Crude Oil pipeline, a natural gas pipeline converted to carry crude. Together, the two make up the Bakken pipeline system. ETCO leaked at least three times in 2017.

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