The Keystone Pipeline Just Leaked More Than 200,000 Gallons Of Oil

by Seth Millstein
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

According to CNN, the Keystone Pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of crude oil in South Dakota on Thursday. TransCanada announced that it has shut down portions of the pipeline, and will keep them shut down until the leak is fixed. The leak comes just five days before Nebraska officials vote on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL project, a proposed extension to the existing pipeline that environmental groups have spent years lobbying against.

The cause of Thursday's spill is unclear, but a spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources told CNN that it was the worst Keystone spill in the state on record. In April 2016, the pipeline leaked around 16,800 gallons in South Dakota, the majority of which was cleaned up in around two months. But Thursday's oil leak is much bigger than the 2016 spill, and there's no word on how long it will take to clean up.

TransCanada said in a press release that the sections of the pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Pakota, Illinois, have been shut down, and that the cause of the leak is "under investigation."

"The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available," the Canadian company said.

The timing and optics of the spill is unfortunate for backers of Keystone XL, a proposed addition to the pipeline that Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over for years. On Monday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to vote on final approval for Keystone XL in the Cornhusker state, which would clear one of the last major regulatory obstacles for the project. Environmental groups were quick to cite to Thursday's spill as an argument against Keystone XL.

“We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us,” the Sierra Club's Kelly Martin said in a statement (TransCanada owns both projects). "This is not the first time TransCanada’s pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands, and it won’t be the last.”

Jane Kleep, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, was even blunter, telling the Washington Post that "TransCanada cannot be trusted." Kleep also predicted that the Nebraska Public Service Commission will "side with Nebraskans, not a foreign oil company" when the commission votes on Keystone XL.

The existing Keystone pipeline spans 1,136 miles from Canada to Texas. Although Thursday's leak is still being investigated, TransCanada said that it occurred in a section of the pipeline around 35 miles south of the Luddon pump station in Marshall County, and was contained within 15 minutes.

“Based on what we know now, the spill has not impacted a surface water body,” said Brian Walsh of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, according to the Post. “It has not done that. So that’s good news.” Walsh also said that the spill appeared to have occurred on a "either a grass or an agricultural field."

David Flute, head of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, told BuzzFeed that the leak sprung on a section of the pipeline adjacent to his reservation, which is located in northeastern South Dakota and a small slice of North Dakota. Flute said that he's concerned the oil will seep into a subterranean water deposit, also known as an aquifer, in the area and contaminate the local water source.

"I’m thinking there is going to be an impact, some type of environmental impact," Flute told BuzzFeed. "As the oil seeps, if they can’t contain the spill, which I’m hoping they do, if they’re unable to contain it from seeping into the water systems, it can be hurtful and harmful to everybody."