Transportation Department fines Dakota Access Pipeline operator $93K over safety violations

Transportation Department fines Dakota Access Pipeline operator $93K over safety violations
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The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Friday announced a $93,200 fine against the operators of the Dakota Access pipeline, citing safety violations.

In its notice, the administration said Energy Transfer violated regulations on drainage valves for stormwater in at least six locations. The company also did not properly correct hazards relating to at least one valve used for nitrogen release, according to the PHMSA notice.

“At a field inspection of Johnsons Corner pump station, and during a subsequent review of records including the alarms generated in the operator's local station control system and SCADA system records, it was determined that multiple alarms occurred since commissioning of the pipeline indicating changes in relief valve’s nitrogen pressure (which effects the valve relief pressure set point),” the notice reads.

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The notice states that the Johnsons Corner valve issue has triggered thousands of alarms since the pipeline began operations four years ago.

The PHMSA identified a further five safety issues, including outdated references to its own operations manuals, as well as failure to update an integrity management program in keeping with practical operations. The letter does not identify any specific instances of oil leakage from the pipeline.

"The letter we received from PHMSA contained the results of a standard audit that was completed in early 2019," a spokesperson for Energy Transfer said in a statement. "All but one of the items identified have already been addressed (or are in process of being addressed). DAPL will address shortly the one remaining issue that PHSMA responded to for the first time this week."

The Dakota Access pipeline has for years been the subject of legal challenges and protests from tribal activists, who warn a spill would devastate the surrounding environment and community.

In 2020, Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers erred in failing to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement before construction of the pipeline, and ordered the corps to conduct the more rigorous review. However, earlier this year, he denied a tribal request to shut down the pipeline while the review takes place.