What Effects Will Keystone Pipeline Leak Have in Area? Environmental Advocates Fear the Worst

More than 9,000 barrels of oil are believed to have spilled from a leak in the Keystone Pipeline in northeastern North Dakota, the second significant spill in as many years in the pipeline that runs from Canada and through seven U.S. states.

More than 9,000 barrels of oil are believed to have spilled from a leak in the Keystone Pipeline in northeastern North Dakota, the second significant spill in as many years in the pipeline that runs from Canada through seven U.S. states. 

A drop in pressure was detected by the control center of the pipeline’s operator, TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, about 9:20 p.m. local time on Tuesday, the company announced.

Crews shut down the pipeline after the leak was discovered, but an estimated 9,120 barrels of oil were released into a wetlands area, officials said.

“Our on-site team is focused on responding to the release and has begun recovering oil, using specialized equipment,” TC Energy said in a statement Thursday. “The approximate size of the impacted area is 2,500 [square yards] or less than half the size of a football field.”

That many barrels amounts to around 383,000 gallons, or enough to fill half an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The estimate is only initial, as authorities say the exact amount of oil released will not be clear until recovery has finished.

The leak occurred near the company’s facilities near Edinburg, a city made up of about 200 people in Walsh County.

“Our emergency response team contained the impacted area, and oil has not migrated beyond the immediately affected area,” TC Energy said. 

No sources of drinking water were affected by the spill, Karl Rockeman, North Dakota's water quality division director, told the Associated Press.

In November 2017, about 4,700 barrels of oil leaked in the South Dakota area of Marshall County. 

The pipeline is designed to carry crude oil through Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada, and across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri on the way to refineries in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. TC Energy is seeking to build the Keystone XL pipeline that would span from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. 

The Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL proposal in 2015, but the Trump administration approved it in 2017.
TC Energy has said the construction of the XL pipeline will lead to the creation of jobs and had lauded what it says are the many benefits of its creation.

“[The] Keystone XL Pipeline will be the safest and most advanced pipeline operation in North America. It will not only bring essential infrastructure to North American oil producers, but it will also provide jobs, long-term energy independence and an economic boost to Americans,” the company’s site says.

But environmental advocates and some residents who live near the construction have opposed the project.

Ponca City, Oklahoma has seen “an increased amount of toxic emissions from tar sand,” “air quality has become life threatening, and residents are forced to breathe in dangerous emissions,” according to authorities at Auburn University. “If a leak does occur once the pipe is built, residents will be at risk of toxic exposure. 

“In every instance of a tar sand leak in populated areas, toxic chemical exposure through respiration has occurred,” the University continued. “Toxic chemical exposure can lead to migraines, painful rashes, breathing complications, nausea, chemical sensitivities, and exacerbated cancer activity.”

In a statement released Wednesday after the most recent spill, the Sierra Club pointed to the many variables that still exist around its actual effects. 

“We don’t yet know the extent of the damage from this latest tar sands spill, but what we do know is that this is not the first time this pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands, and it won't be the last," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels associate director Catherine Collentine said. “We've always said it's not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and once again TC Energy has made our case for us.”

On its website, TC Energy says: "The Keystone XL Pipeline offers a safe, reliable and environmentally responsible way to deliver crude oil to markets in the U.S.”


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