I am interested in the DAPL story. (It's an unfortunate choice of acronym as "DNAPL" stands for Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid– which often refers to contamination by floating petroleum product).  It's a complex issue in many ways that has been left for the next administration to deal with–hopefully it will be resolved peaceably.

A quote from a recent article:

Pipeline experts said it was extremely rare for an administration to intervene in a permitting process typically handled by career civil servants. The advanced stage of the project’s construction made the Obama administration’s move even more unusual, and experts said they believed it could be easily overturned.

One can understand the support for the American Indians and the impoverished Sioux Tribe in ND.  It's not a good history and many want to make up for past injustices.

The DAPL has become a highly-charged and emotional cause. It's a big topic on Facebook. The legal issues involving tribal lands, reservation lands, and the laws pertaining to the DAPL are not well understood.

One tends to look at the science and engineering side of a $3.8 billion pipeline that is around 90% complete and for which large amounts of money and time have already been spent. Years to do the proper design, to prepare a large environmental (and archaeological) impact report, to hold public discussions during pre-permitting and to go through the rigorous permitting process and to come close to the construction finish line and be denied; well, it just seems that politics, protests and media coverage have now created a very expensive problem.

And what are the underlying reasons/motivations?  Is there something else at work here besides the environmental concerns, broken treaties and cultural heritage? Is environmental rent seeking in play? Are threats to the current use of railcars to transport oil out of the Bakken region even part of the equation?  Are assorted special interest groups trying to piggy-back along on the "black snake" bandwagon by using well-honed shakedown tactics to make cash? Is political legacy involved?  Climate change? Evil oil companies?

Whatever it is, it appears a lot of money has been wasted and the level of bad feelings on both sides of the issue has greatly increased.

The policing of the protest groups, by all accounts , will cost the State of North Dakota millions.  Money that in some measure could have been spent to help the 8000 residents of the Standing Rock reservation.  Goodness knows what the construction delays are costing not to mention what a pipeline relocation effort will cost if conducted.

Ostensibly the main concern with the DAPL is about water and the threat of water contamination.
At any rate, taking the "devil's side" where pesky details abound, it seems I recall reading that the risk of a major pipeline break at some point along the entire DAPL route was roughly estimated to be around 1 in 400 years. Extremely low. With all of the advanced pipeline pigs used to monitor pipeline mechanical integrity perhaps even lower. 

If the DAPL defied the odds and broke 0.5 miles above the Standing Rock Reservation the question then becomes how long would it take for the release to be detected on a newly-built pipeline with new electronic sensors before engineering controls kicked in to cut off flow. The worst case and potential volume loss have doubtlessly been modeled.

For buried pipeline (if not encased to begin with in impermeable cement/grout at environmentally-sensitive locations) the thickness and confining characteristics of the soil around the pipe could be a mitigating factor.

One thing for sure is that a detectable release would unleash a very aggressive spill response.  Pipeline repair and cleanup would likely commence within a matter of hours. Costs are high, the consequences can be serious and good companies know that.  However, for a significant or even detectable amount of petroleum product to get 50 miles down river to where the new water supply intake for the reservation will be located seems highly unlikely.

Assuming the even unlikely smaller, potential releases of petroleum, the river would in time aerate and flush out any remaining product or dilute it to a point that bacteria would use it as a food source.
But it is not easy to eliminate all risk of petroleum releases and associated impacts to surface waters or groundwater this modern world. The "water protectors" might look to remove all existing gas stations located on or in proximity to the Sioux Reservation. Then there may be various locations along the river where the possibility of runoffs of herbicides, pesticides, drugs, phosphates, and many other chemicals and elements could occur. What a hornet's nest. Pristine no longer exists.

To the south another even larger issue, involving the Sioux, the Black Hills and more than $1.3 billion awaits fair negotiation and resolution. An area given proper attention and earnest efforts that could improve the lives of thousands.


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