Report: Keystone Spill Worse Than Thought


A state regulator has recently reassessed the amount of land believed to have been affected by a crude oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in eastern North Dakota, which occurred on Oct. 29.

Previously, the spill was reported to have affected 22,500 square feet of land, but those numbers have increased nearly 10 times to about 209,100 square feet (19,426 square meters) of land near Edinburg, North Dakota.

Keystone Pipeline History

In 2011, the $5.2 billion pipeline began flowing crude oil through seven U.S. states, where it eventually works in tandem with the $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline is reported to handle up to 23 million gallons of crude oil daily.

In 2017, President Donald J. Trump’s administration reversed his predecessor’s decision on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, allowing the 1,179-mile oil pipeline to move forward again. Keystone XL, a project of TransCanada, is part of the larger Keystone system and plans to transport oil from Hardisty, Alberta, in the western Canadian oil sands, to Steele City, Nebraska.

Last April, TransCanada revealed that approximately 9,700 barrels of oil spilled on farmland in Marshall County, South Dakota, on Nov. 16, 2017—considerably more than the 5,000 barrels the company originally estimated were lost.

Preliminary reports indicated that the leak may have come as a result of damage to either the pipeline itself or its protective coating, caused during construction 10 years ago. The Aberdeen News noted that if the current estimate is correct, that spill is the seventh largest in the U.S. since 2010.

By July, officials confirmed at least one section of the pipeline north of Britton, South Dakota, was being dug up for inspection. A year later, a federal report indicated that improper coatings were likely used on the pipeline. The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration issued a notice of probable violation to pipeline owner TC Oil Operations, also known as TC Energy, in mid-June.

Last month, over 380,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Keystone Pipeline, a total amounting to 9,120 barrels of crude oil. Sections of Keystone pipeline were shut down in response to the leak, which impacted a wetland area and, at the time, an estimated 2,500 square yards of land. TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, said that air quality, wildlife and environment monitoring was being conducted.

While the cause of the leak underwent investigation, North Dakota regulators also noted that drinking water supplies went unaffected, and TC Energy reported that the spill had been contained, and that it was using backhoes and vacuum trucks to recover the spilled oil.

The pipeline officially returned to service on Nov. 10, after receiving approval for a repair and restart plan by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

What’s Happening Now

According to North Dakota environmental scientist Bill Suess, the estimated amount of land affected by the oil spill has risen nearly 10 times the original estimate; however, the amount of oil leaked remains the same.

"During the initial response to the incident, we provide the best estimate at the time," TC Energy spokesperson Terry Cunha said in a statement. "As we began to cleanup and remediate the impacted area, we were able to get a more accurate assessment of the area."

Since Nov. 17, TIME reported that TC Energy has recovered roughly 337,550 gallons of oil—about 8,100 barrels—and 141,834 gallons of oily water. The company has inserted berms around the affect areas, while cleanup crews are working around the clock to excavate contaminated soil from the site—digging down to depths of 6 feet.

Once collected, the contaminated soil will be stockpiled and taken to a landfill in Sawyer, North Dakota.

“We really don’t have any risk of anything spreading at this point,” Suess added.

While the cause of the spill is still unknown, federal regulators have sent an affected portion of the pipeline to a third-party laboratory for inspection.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipelines

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