Citing weaknesses in an emergency response plan for the Dakota Access pipeline in the event of an oil spill under Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has withdrawn as a cooperating agency with the pipeline project.

“If an oil spill were to occur today, the plans submitted for remediation at Lake Oahe probably couldn’t be implemented,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairperson Janet Alkire. “Equipment required for the containment of a spill, even if deployed in a timely manner, could not reach the response zone.”

Doug Crow Ghost, the administrator of the Tribe’s Water Resources Department, said the Dakota Access emergency plans he’s seen don’t address the lake’s fluctuating water levels. “Lake Oahe’s elevation is 12 feet below what it was two years ago,” he said.

At issue is what the Tribe believes is the failure of the emergency response plans to take into account the conditions of roads to access a spill under Lake Oahe during low water level conditions or dealing with a spill during harsh winter conditions, including access to a leak during winter when ice covers the lake.

Standing Rock leaders claim a failure by Energy Transfer, which owns and operates the Dakota Access pipeline, to update the Tribe on the emergency plans has only made the situation worse. The Tribe says it has never seen a full copy of the pipeline’s current emergency plan.

The lack of transparency, coupled with concerns about low water levels at Lake Oahe, is among the issues that prompted Standing Rock to withdraw as a cooperating agency, Tribal officials said.

In April 2020, a federal court ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a new Environmental Impact Statement for the Dakota Access pipeline.

That statement will also take into consideration plans to double the capacity of the pipeline to move oil from North Dakota. That plan was approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission in February 2020, but has been challenged in court.

The Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be completed by March of this year.