Federal agency plans to fine Dakota Access for safety violations

In a letter mailed to Dakota Access operators on Thursday, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration listed seven safety infractions and said it plans to fine the company $93,200.

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Construction equipment sits near a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site off County Road 135 near the town of Cannon Ball, N.D., on Oct. 30, 2016. (REUTERS / Josh Morgan)
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BISMARCK — A federal agency hit operators of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Thursday, July 22, with a potential $93,200 in fines for violations of several pipeline safety protocols.

In a letter sent to the pipeline's parent company, Texas-based Energy Transfer, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration alleged seven infractions of safety regulations. The letter did not indicate that any of these violations have led to leaks from the pipeline.

The fines were assessed in response to two of the infractions: in one case, Energy Transfer's failure to prepare and follow an operations manual, and in a second, the company's failure to comply with recommended practices of the American Petroleum Institute.

In a separate violation, the agency said Energy Transfer failed to correct a feature used to mitigate pressure in the line. A records request by the agency found this issue contributed to more than 9,500 alarms in Energy Transfer's local monitoring systems between the start of pipeline operations and December of 2019.

Also in the letter was an allegation stating the company neglected to inspect a safety relief valve at a South Dakota pump station during the 2018 calendar year, while another said the company improperly placed storm water drainage tanks at six western North Dakota facilities.


In a statement, Energy Transfer spokesperson Vicki Granado said the company is handling or has already addressed all but one of the violations outlined in the federal agency's letter. The one outstanding issue will be addressed "shortly," she said.

"This all reflects the continued commitment to safely operating the Dakota Access Pipeline, including the crossing at Lake Oahe," Granado said in reference to the pipeline's route near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which the tribe has contested for years.

The federal agency's letter outlined steps Energy Transfer needs to take to address each issue. The company has 30 days to respond to the letter or request a hearing.

The safety of Dakota Access operations has long been a primary concern of the Standing Rock tribe, who argue the pipeline's Missouri River crossing endangers their reservation's water supply. Protests against the pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation drew the global spotlight during the project's construction in 2016 and 2017.

"This is a rogue operator with a history of shoddy operations," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock tribe in its case against Dakota Access, in a statement Thursday that urged President Joe Biden's administration to shut the pipeline down.

"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 Standing Rock Vice Chairman Ira Taken Alive in a statement. “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."

Environmental and tribal activists have appealed to the Biden administration to shut the pipeline down, but so far it has declined to take any action against the embattled project.

A five-year legal battle over the pipeline drew to a close earlier this summer after a federal judge who previously ordered the pipeline to shut down said the tribe had fallen short of the high legal bar needed for the court to take action against the pipeline. Two federal courts in the last year and a half agreed Dakota Access is operating without a key legal permit at the Missouri River crossing.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a court ordered environmental review of the pipeline. That is expected to finish in March of 2022, at which point further legal action is likely. Though Army Corps officials opted not to interfere with the pipeline's operations up to this point, agency officials said they are reviewing that decision on an ongoing basis.

In a notice filed to the district court Thursday, the Army Corps said it is is considering the federal regulators' letter in its determination of how to handle the pipeline's missing permit at the Missouri River crossing, as well as in its environmental review.

Standing Rock has requested a 90-day extension on a deadline to review and respond to 48,000 comments on the scoping of the Army Corps' environmental review, while the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, of South Dakota, has asked for an extension of the review's end date to September of 2022.

The Army Corps said in its notice that it's seriously considering the tribes' requests and may push back the end date of the environmental review.

Dakota Access has the capacity to carry 570,000 barrels of oil a day from western North Dakota to market around the country, and pipeline operators are working to double that load by the end of this year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at

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