TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline spilled about 210,000 gallons of oil Thursday, Nov. 16 in northeastern South Dakota, just days before regulators decide whether to allow another extension of the pipeline – the Keystone XL – to move forward.
Brian Walsh, spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told CNN that Thursday’s oil spill was the largest to date in the state. The oil spill occurred about three miles northeast of Amherst, South Dakota.
“It is a below-ground pipeline but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” Mr. Walsh told CNN. “It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination.”
The Keystone Pipeline oil spill flooded a grassy field with 5,000 barrels of highly toxic tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. Compared to conventional crude oil, tar sands oil is much denser and more sticky, making it notoriously difficult to clean. Tar sands oil is treated with a multitude of chemical additives to give it the proper viscosity that allows the dense oil to move through the pipeline. The oil also releases 17 percent more greenhouse gases.
The Keystone Pipeline is part of a 2,687-mile pipeline system that moves tar sands oil from the Keystone Hardisty Terminal in Hardisty, Alberta, to Patoka, Illinois; Cushing, Oklahoma; and Houston and Port Arthur in Texas, among other locations.
The proposed pipeline, Phase 4, would cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. That extension of the pipeline would transect the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest underground reservoirs of fresh water in the world.
Environmentalists, Indian tribes, clean-energy advocates, and other critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline say that an oil spill like the one that occurred Thursday in the vicinity of the Ogallala Aquifer could contaminate the water supply. It would also be nearly impossible to clean.
It took more than two months for TransCanada to clean a spill of 16,800 gallons/400 barrels that occurred on April 2, 2016.
President Barack Obama last November rejected the fourth phase of the pipeline, the Keystone XL, after six years of environmental review. Almost immediately after assuming office, Donald Trump revived both the Keystone XL and the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) with presidential memoranda.
TransCanada said it detected a drop in pressure in its Keystone Pipeline and isolated that section of the pipe within 15 minutes.