Diamond Pipeline endangers burial grounds, water supply

5 April 2017
Nathan Hinkle, Student Writer

The pipeline’s economic incentives fail to outweigh the environmental and cultural problems construction would cause.

Recent controversy has erupted over the building of the new Diamond Pipeline. The Ponca tribe, Seminole Nation and environmentalists such as Bold Oklahoma oppose the pipeline because it threatens the environment, rivers and Native American unmarked graves that were created during the Trail of Tears. These two groups argue that this pipeline will be harmful to the states through which it passes: Oklahoma, Arizona and Tennessee.

The Diamond Pipeline, created by the Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation, will start in Cushing, Oklahoma and head east to Memphis, Tennessee. On its 440 mile journey, it will pass through seven counties in Oklahoma: Lincoln, Creek, Okmulgee, Muskogee, McIntosh, Haskell and LeFlore. Once leaving Oklahoma, it will pass through fourteen different Arkansas counties until it reaches its destination in Memphis. The pipeline seeks to carry crude oil from Cushing to Memphis where it can be processed into gasoline or other petroleum needs.

The companies in charge of the pipeline argue that the pipeline will be both economically valuable to the communities it passes through as well as extremely safe to the surrounding environment and areas of cultural importance. In a statement about the pipeline, Plains American Pipeline argues that the Diamond Pipeline will provide “approximately $11 million in property tax revenue per year to communities in its route.” In addition to this addition of tax revenue, it is estimated that around 1,500 potential construction jobs will be needed to build the pipeline. Once it is complete, there will be 15 permanent jobs created to work on the pipeline during its lifetime. The company also argues that it sent out information about the pipeline to about 24 different Native American tribes and worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers to fix all potential problems that the tribes had with the plans.

Groups like the Arkansas River Valley Safe Water Coalition, Arkansas Water Guardians, American Indian Movement, Sierra Club of Oklahoma, NoPlainsPipeline and Bold Oklahoma argue that the pipeline should be not created for a variety of reasons. The first reason proposed by Native American groups is that the pipeline will cross through sacred areas and burial grounds. In a conflicting statement versus the one given by Plains American Pipeline, Bold Oklahoma argues that while the pipeline has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the company did not properly inform or ask the opinions of nearby Native American tribes who would be negatively affected by the pipeline running through their land. According to Bold Oklahoma, the company should have informed Native American tribes better before going through with the project.

On the environmental side of the argument, Groups like the Arkansas River Valley Safe Water Coalition are worried that the pipeline will have to pass through local rivers and streams, which will become a major issue if the pipeline is destroyed and the crude oil leaks out. In response to this claim, Plains American Pipeline stated that they will be drilling horizontally instead of vertically. In the process of drilling horizontally, one is able to create a relief well which will potentially relieve pressure on the pipe, resulting in a smaller possibility of the pipe bursting and leaking out crude oil into the ground.

This pipeline is problematic because it passes through water sources across Oklahoma and Arkansas. While Plains American Pipeline argues that the pipeline will not burst due to different drilling mechanisms, water sources in America are extremely important, whether that be for agriculture or the environment, and should not be tampered with if possible. Another problem with this potential pipeline is that Plains All America has had problems in the past with oil spills. Back in 2015, a pipeline broke in the Pacific Ocean and caused a large spill, endangering the wildlife as well as the livelihoods of fishermen in the area surrounding it. The company was indicted on 46 counts based on the oil spilled and the amount of wildlife destroyed by the incident. The spill was supposed to have killed more than 100 marine mammals and spread for miles on the Refugio State Beach in California. In this spill, the alarm was turned off during maintenance of other issues involved in the pipeline. The company only received the info after groups of people visibly saw the oil come on the surface. The company paid around 96 million in cleanup but the spill is still problematic because the spill was located in several marine protected areas. These areas are extremely important because they are one of the most studied areas in the United States due to its unique attributes. Therefore, while this pipeline would be economically useful for Oklahoma, it is a large risk to take when thinking about the potential problems that will occur with Native American burial sites as well as water resources.