David And Goliath Face Off Over Bakken Oil: Human Health Risks Of A Pipeline Breach

The Standing Rock Sioux, one of the poorest communities in America, are facing off against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which plans to transport 500,000 barrels of crude Bakken oil underneath the Missouri River a half mile upriver from the Standing Rock reservation.

When the Army Corps of Engineers approved the pipeline plans, they did so using an environmental assessment prepared by the pipeline's developer, Dakota Access LLC. They approved the plans over the objections of three federal agencies. Since that time, the pipeline plans have moved the proposed Missouri River crossing from 10 miles north of Bismark, the state capital, to a half mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

The EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation all issued comments on the proposed plan, recommending further environmental assessment. Concerns addressed by the federal agencies were to the safety of the water supply for the tribe, environmental impact of the pipeline on the river, and an inadequate environmental justice assessment.

At its worst, there is an appearance of blatant corruption or gross negligence by a federal agency. At best? Environmental and cultural disregard and disrespect better suited to the education and attitudes of 1816 than 2016.

But what are the health risks for the people who drink water if the Missouri River was contaminated from a pipeline breach? Are there real, scientifically valid concerns about the health of people who live in proximity to oil pipelines and oilfields? And if so, what health risks are engendered by workers at Bakken?

Hazardous working conditions can be those immediately experienced, such as industrial accidents, burns from fire and explosions, and falls from equipment failure. They can also be more long-term, as health consequences of chemical exposure, industrial solvent exposure, organic hydrocarbons, and other hazardous materials may develop over years or decades. What does science already know about the hazardous materials exposure of oil field and pipeline workers?

Hydrogen Sulfide gas is released from wells, pipelines, and refineries. Benzene is released from holding tanks and wells during frackingoperations. Both NIOSH and OSHA are studying the long-term effects on gas and oil field workers, including Bakken oil field workers, but we already know conclusively that exposure to too much of these gases causes cancer in children and adults. Bone marrow, kidneys, the nervous system, and the liver are particularly susceptible.

Government agencies are studying how much exposure is safe. Research into organic solvents such as those used in oilfield, pipeline, and refinery work have consistently shown higher levels of leukemia, lung cancer, and various GI cancers in workers with chronic, low-level exposure.

For more information on workman's comp and illness or injury related to hazardous materials exposure while working in Bakken, please contact us.