While the fight to prevent the controversial construction of the Dakota Access pipeline has largely faded from the minds of most Americans, the pipeline’s parent company – Energy Transfer Partners – is still hard at work seeking to further undermine civilian and environmental protections to ensure the “smooth” operation of their $3.8-billion-investment in the project.
In spite of long-standing concerns that the pipeline could threaten the safety of drinking water for 17 million people, a federal judge has now given Energy Transfer Partners legal permission to hide information about which areas of the pipeline are at risk for spills.
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Last Friday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that information regarding these risks should be shielded from public view, but added that Energy Transfer Partners must make public certain details related to spill response measures, as well as the names of waterways that could be affected.
Energy Transfer Partners previously argued in court that keeping such information private was essential, as it could be “useful to vandals and terrorists” or others “with malicious intent to damage the pipeline.” The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux indigenous American tribes, whose primary water sources are directly threatened by the pipeline, have argued that the disclosure of such information is essential, as it would strengthen their call for a more extensive environmental review of the project.
Boasberg rejected the tribes’ arguments, stating “the asserted interest in limiting intentionally inflicted harm outweighs the tribes’ generalized interests in public disclosure and scrutiny,” despite that fact that pipeline safety experts have repeatedly found the environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline to have been “seriously deficient.”
This latest court case mirrors the back-and-forth that took place between Energy Transfer Partners and indigenous tribes last year, resulting in an intense public protest where indigenous people were supported by environmental and social justice groups. Encampments were formed in areas where the pipeline was set to cross under the Missouri River, with the intention of preventing the pipeline’s full completion and forcing the company to reroute the pipeline around the primary water source for the Sioux and millions of others who rely on the river for drinking water.
These camps united the tribes, military veterans and foreign activists, but were met with opposition by private security officers hired by Energy Transfer Partners, as well as state police. By the time this latest court hearing was under way, 750 anti-pipeline protesters had been arrested.
The Obama administration had attempted to calm the situation by issuing “voluntary” injunctions on the pipeline’s construction, but since these injunctions were not legally binding, construction continued anyway, allowing the full blame for the advancement of the project to be placed on Trump, a strong advocate for the fossil fuel industry. Trump had between $500,000 and $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners in 2015, which many took as a conflict of interest, considering the controversial nature of the issue. Trump did, however, divest his stake in the company before becoming president.
Despite the words of politicians and assurances from Energy Transfer Partners, oil spills in North Dakota are commonplace, with the Center for Biological Diversity estimating that the state has averaged around four major pipeline spills annually since 1996. This latest ruling is set to create even more risks for those who stand to lose the most in the event of more spills.