Tribune editorial: State, tribe need to train for oil spill

Tribune editorial: State, tribe need to train for oil spill

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Dakota Access River Crossing

The Dakota Access Pipeline crosses under the Missouri River from Morton County into Emmons County at this site near the power lines. To the south lies the community of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The state needs to collaborate with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the private sector on a training exercise to respond to a potential oil spill. The possibility of an exercise was raised recently, and the involved parties seem receptive.

Standing Rock remains concerned about the possibility of a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses under the Missouri River just north of the reservation. The DAPL protests were sparked, in part, about the concerns over a leak.

The reservation gets its water supply from the river and many fear a leak could contaminate that supply. The concerns have increased with the pipeline developer, Energy Transfer, seeking to double the amount of oil going through the line.

We know from experience the problems that are created by the loss of water. It happened during a drought period in 2003. On Nov. 24, 2003, 10,000 people on the reservation were without water when the Fort Yates intake failed because of a low water level in the Missouri River. Hospitals and schools were forced to close because of the lack of water. It created health and safety problems on the reservation until it was resolved.

Going without water for an extended period can create a crisis. So while the state and Energy Transfer maintain the Dakota Access Pipeline is safe, it makes sense to be prepared for a potential spill. Companies drilling near Lake Sakakawea and other water bodies also have conducted training exercises.

Cody Schulz, director of North Dakota Homeland Security, heard the tribe had asked about organizing a training event do deal with a possible oil spill near Cannon Ball. Schulz said the Department of Emergency Services will be “happy to partner or facilitate” a training event.

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith calls the offer “awesome,” and Gov. Doug Burgum offered support for a training exercise.

Schulz said there are several exercises available which would involve gathering emergency responders to talk through responses to various spill scenarios. He also said the North Dakota National Guard plans an event in August where the Guard and civilian authorities will go through a number of responses to emergency scenarios across the state. It’s possible the tribe could take part in this event.

These are good ideas and the tribe, state and the private sector need to work together to develop a training program or programs. It will would be good if something could be organized earlier than August to allay concerns on the reservation.

We know spills can occur because they have happened. While safety measures and maintenance keep improving with pipelines, preparedness remains essential.

Collaboration on training exercises provides another way to improve relations with all the parties involved. Ill feelings from the Dakota Access protests linger, so working together on a training exercise could help mend fences.

The reservation has legitimate concerns, so it’s promising to see the state step forward to help plan for something no one wants to happen.

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