A couple months ago, I attended a protest against. the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was being constructed near my town of Ames, Iowa. As I watched friends getting arrested in nonviolent demonstrations, I had so many questions: does this pipeline really pose a threat to land and water?
With the controversy over the recent denial of the permit to cross the Missouri River at Standing Rock, and the requirement for the pipeline to undergo an environmental review, and with the prospects of efforts to build new pipelines after the Trump administration takes office, answering this question is as important now as ever.
My suspicion was that pipeline accidents are rare, but as I investigated, I found that they actually happen all the time. In the last 30 years, there have been over 8,700 liquid pipeline spills in the US, averaging nearly one every day.
One, in fact, happened recently only 150 miles from Standing Rock, where over 4,200 barrels (180,000 gallons) spilled into a river.
And the spills add up: if the 4.2 million barrels (176 million gallons) that have spilled in the last 30 years were counted as a single spill, it would be the third largest in history, right under the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, when 4.9 million barrels spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.