Federal Regulators Take Enforcement Action Against Dakota Access Pipeline

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flags concerns about safety violations


Becca Bowe, Earthjustice, rbowe@earthjustice.org, (415) 217-2093

Two days before a group of Tribal allies are scheduled to arrive at Standing Rock with a 25-foot totem pole for a solidarity event with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a federal regulatory agency has hit the pipeline operator with an enforcement action over a series of alarming safety violations.

The Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is responsible for overseeing pipeline safety, fined DAPL and put the company on notice for a list of violations ranging from neglecting safety repairs on release valves, to failing to properly analyze the volume and impact of an oil spill in densely populated, or “high-consequence,” areas. The enforcement action drew an immediate response from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which submitted a court filing to alert a federal judge to the recent developments.

In its filing, the Corps noted that it is reviewing the enforcement action as part of its “ongoing consideration of whether and how the Corps will enforce its property rights,” a reference to the Corps’ permit to Energy Transfer to operate DAPL beneath Lake Oahe, a dammed portion of the Missouri River where the Corps has jurisdiction. A federal district judge has already invalidated that permit because it was issued without a proper environmental review. But so far, the Army Corps under President Biden has used its discretion to allow the line to continue operating anyway.

“It’s not surprising to learn that the operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline has failed to adhere to a long list of safety regulations,” said vice chairman Ira Taken Alive of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in response to the news. “An oil spill from this pipeline would be devastating to our drinking water supply and that of millions of people downstream, placing us all in harm’s way. That’s why we have opposed DAPL from the very beginning and fought its continued operation at every turn.”

“This is a rogue operator with a history of shoddy operations, and the Biden administration should step in to shut down this pipeline before it’s too late,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who has represented the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in litigation against DAPL for more than five years.

On July 24, Indigenous travelers on a cross-country journey known as the Red Road to D.C. will stop at Standing Rock with a 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole created by Lummi master carvers for a solidarity event with the Tribe. The journey is meant to highlight and protect sacred places that Tribal nations have fought to preserve in the face of threats from extractive industry. On July 29, Standing Rock representatives will offer comments at the Red Road to D.C. event celebrating the totem pole’s arrival to Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.