Belle Fourche Pipeline Leak - December
North Dakota Department of Health/Handout
Belle Fourche Pipeline Leak - December
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Tires burn as armed soldiers and law enforcement officers stand in formation on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land where they had camped to block construction. The pipeline is to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
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US Navy veteran John Gutekanst from Athens, Ohio, waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Native Americans and activists from around the country gather at the camp trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  / AFP / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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US Navy veteran John Gutekanst from Athens, Ohio, waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country gather at the camp trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05:  Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 05: Military veterans are briefed on cold-weather safety issues and their overall role at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Over the weekend a large group of military veterans joined native Americans and activists from around the country who have been at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock reservation. The proposed 1,172-mile-long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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CANNON BALL, ND - NOVEMBER 30:  Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the  Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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CANNON BALL, ND - NOVEMBER 30: Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

"Any time oil gets into water ... we take it more seriously," North Dakota official says

Spill is 150 miles from Cannon Ball, where protesters have fought construction of the Dakota Access pipeline

CNN —  

Activists who have demonstrated for months against the Dakota Access Pipeline may have some fuel to justify their protests.

A spill has occurred 150 miles from Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where protesters have fought construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil have leaked.
Jennifer Skjod/North Dakota Department of Health
Officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil have leaked.

State officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil, or 176,000 gallons, have leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline in Billings County.

Of that amount, 130,000 gallons of oil has flowed into Ash Coulee Creek, while the rest leaked onto a hillside, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager at the North Dakota Department of Health. Built in the 1980s, the pipeline is 6 inches in diameter and transports about 1,000 barrels of oil daily, he said. The leak happened December 5.

“Any time it gets into water, we respond differently and we take it more seriously,” Suess said. He said more than 100 people are working to clean up the spill. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause, he said.

The incident happened less than a three-hour drive from Cannon Ball, where protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have simmered for months over the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.7 billion project would connect oil-rich areas of North Dakota to Illinois, where the crude oil could then be transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast or the East Coast.

The demonstrations have turned violent at times.

Military veterans march in support of protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on December 5.
Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Military veterans march in support of protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on December 5.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe sued the US Army Corps of Engineers after the pipeline was granted final permits in July. The tribe said the project will not only threaten its environmental and economic well-being, but will also cut through sacred land. It said construction would destroy burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts.

In early December, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced it would look for an alternate route for the pipeline, although the pipeline is nearly complete.

Companies behind the project have pushed back.

Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners said they expect to complete the construction without additional rerouting. They have taken legal action, asking a federal court to allow them to complete the pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day across four states, Energy Access Partners said.

It will pass through an oil-rich area in North Dakota with an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered oil. This oil would be shipped to markets and refineries in the Midwest, East Coast and Gulf Coast regions.

By the numbers

  • 1,172 miles: Length of Dakota Access Pipeline
  • 30 inches: Width of the pipeline
  • 470,000: Barrels of crude oil to be moved daily
  • 374.3 million: Equivalent gallons of gasoline per day
  • Sources: Energy Access Partners, US Energy Information Administration

This way, the project developer said, the United States could tap its own backyard for oil, rather than relying on imports from unstable regions of the world.