Keystone Pipeline Spills 383,000 Gallons of Oil


(Photo: Reuters/Dronebase)

Safa Hameed

On Tuesday October 29, the Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil, spilled 383,000 gallons of oil on a wetland environment in Edinburg, North Dakota.

TransCanada (TC), the company that owns the pipeline, discovered the leak after a drop in pressure was detected at one of the nearby facilities. Investigations are still being conducted by both an independent party and the federal government, so the cause of the leak is still unknown.

TC has stated that they “…are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response. There have been no reported injuries or impacted wildlife.” No people are at risk either as no one lives within the vicinity of the spill and the wetland is not used as a source of drinking water. The pipeline was closed immediately after and reopened two weeks later with permission from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In an email, TC representative Sara Rabren assured that “we [TC] will take the learnings from this incident” and invest “millions of dollars each year to ensure we operate [a] safe pipeline system.” 

Even though no wildlife was injured, a half sized Olympic swimming pool’s worth of oil was spilled onto a wetland which is sure to impact the soil, grass, marshes, water, and tons of other microorganisms that inhabit the land. Although, no one was impacted by the spill, this further reinforces the fears that many people have about the pipeline. Furthermore, the leak could have happened at one of the many other places the pipeline travels through; Alberta, Canada, five Midwestern states, and Texas, where most of the oil is brought from.

This has caused controversy for TC, as this spill comes just after protest of the construction of the Keystone XL, which is the fourth phase or extension of the currently standing pipeline. Previously, President Obama blocked the company from starting the build, but this changed within the first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency, as he granted approval for TC to start the build. 

This is one of the larger spills to have occurred along the Keystone Pipeline, but there have been many numerous smaller ones that haven’t caused enough damage to be deemed significant. On the other hand, there were notable spills that took place in 2017 in South Dakota after oil leaked onto agricultural lands near Amherst. At first it was reported that only 210,000 gallons had escaped, but in 2018 federal authorities found that the amount was actually twice as much, nearing 408,000. Furthermore, TC was granted a permit in 2007 that allows them to operate at an 80 percent stress level on the steel that makes up the pipes. This means that they can pump oil at a higher rate than other companies who have to abide by the standard of 72 percent. These advantages, however, come with rigorous safety guidelines that the company has to follow.

Reuters gained access to risk assessment documents that the company turned over to the government before beginning operations in 2010. According to Reuters, the documents state that leaks with a yield of greater than 2,100 gallons would happen “…not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States.” Yet there has been more than five major leaks in the past 12 years. In South Dakota alone, where there have been two noteworthy spills within months of each other, the document estimated that it would “…spill no more than once every 41 years.”

Some landowners oppose the pipeline for the sake of it contaminating farmland that cattle grazes on. Jeanne Crumly, a farmer who lives along the approved pipeline path, told Reuters that “the spill confirms what we have been warning people about over the last 10 years.” Other farmers, however, say that “we have to be willing to take a risk [of an oil spill]. It’s a very minuscule chance.” They also said that for this very small risk, TC provides financial compensation for using their lands. In areas where the new Keystone XL is being built, TC has begun proceedings to acquire land through eminent domain, which gives them the right to use private property with the approval of the government, provided they give just compensation to the original owners. Landowners in these areas now decide whether to appeal these decisions to district courts or settle with the company on a fair value for their property.