TransCanada Corp. grossly underestimated or understated its spill projections for its existing Keystone pipeline in documents it provided to regulators before the line became operational in 2010.
Documents obtained by Reuters show seriously flawed risk assessments for the massive Keystone pipeline, which spans 2,147 miles across the middle of the U.S., connecting Alberta, Canada’s oil fields to refineries on the Texas coast.
On Nov. 16, the Keystone pipeline spilled 5,000 barrels of highly toxic tar sands oil in rural South Dakota near the town of Aberdeen. Two other oil spills of about 400 barrels each preceded this month’s spill – one in South Dakota last year and one in North Dakota in 2011.
Before it began construction on the Keystone pipeline, TransCanada had to complete and submit a spill risk assessment to government regulators charged with deciding whether to allow the massive pipeline to transect the heartland.
According to Reuters, TransCanada’s South Dakota operating permit showed a risk assessment that estimated the chance of a Keystone pipeline leak larger than 50 barrels would occur “not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States.”
For South Dakota alone, where the pipeline has already leaked twice, the estimate was a “spill no more than once every 41 years,” Reuters reported.
TransCanada’s spill analysis for Keystone XL, which would cross Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, estimates 2.2 leaks per decade with half of those at volumes of 3 barrels or less. It estimated that spills exceeding 1,000 barrels would occur at a rate of once per century.
The revelations come just days after Nebraska regulators approved TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, an extension of the Keystone system that will cut through the state. Nebraska’s approval was the last regulatory hurdle the Keystone XL expansion faced.
According to Reuters, South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission has the authority to revoke TransCanada’s operating permit if a probe of the Nov. 16 oil spill finds the company violated the terms of its license, which include construction standards, routine inspections of the pipeline infrastructure, and other environmental safety protections.
“They testified that this is going to be a state-of-the-art pipeline,” one of the commissioners, Gary Hanson, told Reuters. “We want to know the pipeline is going to operate in a fashion that is safe and reliable. So far it’s not going well.”