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  • Indigenous leaders protest the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in Washington.

    Indigenous leaders protest the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in Washington. | Photo: Reuters

As oil began to flow in the nearby Dakota Access pipeline, the December oil spill is said to be 12,615 barrels of oil, from the initial estimate of 4,200.

A crude oil spill in western North Dakota in December is now believed to be about three times bigger than originally estimated, pipeline owner True Companies said, just days before oil started flowing Tuesday in the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, further validating fears of a similar spill in a water source near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

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The Belle Fourche crude oil pipeline spilled an estimated 12,615 barrels of oil, more than the December estimate of 4,200 barrels, spokeswoman Wendy Owen told reporters last week.

The spill is the second-largest crude spill in the state in more than 15 years, behind a 20,600-barrel leak by a Tesoro Logistics L.P. pipeline in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Oil from the pipeline leaked into the Ash Coulee Creek and on a hillside. Around 80 percent of the cleanup is complete, Owen said, noting the incident occurred following ground movement.

The pipeline operator has collected around 3,900 barrels of oil from the creek by skimming and vacuuming, Owen said and added that no oil moved further down the creek which feeds into the Little Missouri River and eventually flows into the Missouri River, a major source of drinking water.

The North Dakota Department of Health has not yet completed a subsurface investigation on the hillside affected by the leak to confirm how much oil remains, agency program manager Bill Seuss told reporters Friday.

The spill was not originally detected by monitoring equipment, raising fears that the technology deployed by companies, contrary to their claims, is not sufficient to prevent contaminations.

The spill occurred about 150 miles from where the Native American Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmentalists, calling themselves water protectors, were protesting Energy Transfer Partners' controversial US$3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline.

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The company behind the Dakota Access pipeline said Tuesday that oil was flowing in the pipeline under the Missouri river reservoir, a main water source for the Native American tribe and one of the main reasons behind the months-long mobilization against the the pipeline last year.

Just days into his presidency U.S. President Donald Trump signed executive orders paving the way for the Dakota Access pipeline and TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL to continue their construction.

As construction of the pipeline was revived and the encampment by water protectors was shut down by law enforcement, Native Americans and activists intensified efforts to convince banks and lenders to divest from the pipeline, so far gaining the support of four U.S. cities, San Francisco, Seattle, Davis and Santa Monica, which have divested from Wells Fargo, one of the banks lending money for the pipeline.

Two banks, the Dutch ING and Norwegian DNB, have sold off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans they had provided for the Dakota Access, in what they say was support for the Indigenous people and their causes.

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