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Keystone pipeline leaks days before Nebraska expansion ruling

A sign for TransCanada's Keystone pipeline seen in 2015 in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada. TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone pipeline has leaked oil onto agricultural land in northeastern South Dakota, the company and state regulators said on Thursday. State officials say they don’t believe the leak polluted any surface-water bodies or drinking-water systems. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

A sign for TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline seen in 2015 in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada. TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone pipeline has leaked oil onto agricultural land in northeastern South Dakota, the company and state regulators said on Thursday. State officials say they don’t believe the leak polluted any surface-water bodies or drinking-water systems. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

By JAMES NORD

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone pipeline leaked an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil onto agricultural land in northeastern South Dakota, but state officials don’t believe the leak polluted any surface-water bodies or drinking-water systems.

State officials and the pipeline operator TransCanada Corp. disclosed the leak on Thursday, and the company shut down the pipeline.
TransCanada said it activated emergency-response procedures after detecting a drop in pressure resulting from the leak south of a pump station in Marshall County. The cause was being investigated.

The discovery of the leak comes just days before Nebraska regulators were scheduled to announce their decision Monday on whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, an expansion that would boost the amount of oil TransCanada is now shipping through its existing line, which is known simply as Keystone. The expansion has provoked fierce opposition from environmental groups, American Indian tribes and some landowners.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state has sent a staff member to the site of the leak in a rural area near the state’s border with North Dakota, about 250 miles west of Minneapolis.

“Ultimately, the cleanup responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they’ll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations,” Walsh said.

TransCanada said in its statement that it expects the pipeline to remain shut down as the company responds to the leak. It did not offer a time estimate, and a spokesman didn’t immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration didn’t immediately return an email requesting additional information from The AP. Since 2010, companies have reported 17 spills bigger than the leak announced Thursday, which released more than 210,000 gallons of crude oil or refined petroleum products, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records.

The existing Keystone pipeline takes crude from Canada to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma, passing through the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. It can handle nearly 600,000 barrels a day, or about 23 million gallons. TransCanada says on its website that the company has safely transported more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil, or about 63 billion gallons, through the system since operations began in 2010.

President Donald Trump issued a federal permit for the expansion project in March even though it had been rejected by the Obama administration. The Keystone XL project would move crude oil from Alberta, Canada, across Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines feeding refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Kent Moeckly, a member of conservation and family agriculture group Dakota Rural Action, who opposed the Keystone pipeline, said he drove to land he owns near the site of the spill Thursday.

“There’s a heck of a south wind up here today, and man it just stunk of crude oil,” said Moeckly, whose property is crossed by the pipeline. “A mile away, but I’ll tell you it was like it was next door.”

A leak and spill in southeastern South Dakota in April 2016 prompted a weeklong shutdown of the pipeline. TransCanada estimated that slightly fewer than 17,000 gallons of oil spilled onto private land during that leak. Federal regulators said an “anomaly” on a weld on the pipeline was to blame. No waterways or aquifers were affected.

TransCanada then said the leak was the first detected since the pipeline began operating, although there had been leaks at pumping stations. One of those leaks happened in southeastern North Dakota in May 2011, when 14,000 gallons  spilled after a valve failed at a pumping station near the South Dakota border.

Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement that the only way to prevent leaks in the future is for Nebraska to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us,” Martin said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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