A proposed oil pipeline expansion through western South Dakota will cross a main water source for several Native American reservations and could threaten the water supply, Native American leaders say.
The Keystone XL Pipeline expansion is part of an oil pipeline project funded by TransCanada, a Canada-based energy supply company. The proposal connects Hardisty, Saskatchewan, with Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, and runs across South Dakota from Harding County in the northwest corner to south central Tripp County, according to maps on the TransCanada website. If the project is approved by the U.S. Department of State, construction will begin in January 2012 and finish in 2013, according to the website.
The proposed pipeline will cross the Mni Wiconi Rural Water System pipeline twice, in Haakon County and Jones County, said Arden Freitag, who oversees the pipeline for the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The Mni Wiconi pipes Missouri River water to the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Lower Brule reservations.
The pipeline will also pass through or near burial grounds and other sacred sites that are not on reservations, said Pat Spears, president of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, which coordinates energy policies for many of South Dakota's tribes. Those sacred sites are on land that Native Americans hope will be theirs one day, he said.
"We're looking down the road seven generations," Spears said. "We're making decisions about future impact."
The Mni Wiconi is built on private property through easements which the Bureau of Reclamation holds in trust for tribes, Freitag said. An easement allows the bureau to access land to install and maintain the water pipeline but does not grant ownership rights. The easement grant record for the Jones County land, where the Keystone pipeline will cross the Mni Wiconi, states that the property owner has the right to "cultivate, use and occupy" the land for any reason as long as it does not endanger the Mni Wiconi pipeline.
Freitag said there are two potential problems with crossing the oil and water pipelines. Pipes that cross too near each other can corrode more quickly because of the way metals interact with the soil, and one crossing is near a section of PVC pipeline, which could be damaged by a hot oil spill from the Keystone pipeline. If a section of the Mni Wiconi corrodes, water flow would shut down while it is repaired, Freitag said.
Water in the Mni Wiconi pipeline will probably not be contaminated by any oil spills, Freitag said, because water flows at a high pressure and would flow out of the pipe, not in, if there were a leak.
The Keystone pipeline expansion was supposed to go through the Rosebud Reservation, but reservation officials refused, said Syed Huq, director of the Rosebud rural water system, which is connected to the Mni Wiconi pipeline. Huq said the Keystone expansion will also run near groundwater and an aquifer that provide water to the reservation.
"If it contaminates the groundwater, boy, that's it," said Huq. "It's going to be extremely difficult, almost impossible to clean up the groundwater - that's for sure."
The Mni Wiconi pipeline provides water to about 13,000 people on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, said Frank Means, director of the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System. Several people from Pine Ridge Reservation, including Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele, protested the pipeline in recent weeks, but Means is more concerned that TransCanada follow safety precautions when they lay the line.
"I know people are opposed to it, especially people on my reservation," Means said. "But if it goes through, whether we like it or not, I've got to make sure that we're prepared."
Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.