October’s oil spill in North Dakota solidified the opposition to the Keystone XL project, the planned expansion to the pipeline.
Estimates from the pipeline’s owners, TC Energy, indicate that almost 383,000 gallons (or 9,120 barrels) of tar sands oil has leaked from the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota around October 29th. TC Energy—formerly known as TransCanada— have shut down the pipeline due to the spill.
Despite strong opposition to the project, the Keystone pipeline was approved for construction in 2006. Pumping started in 2010 and the pipeline now carries a concoction of tar sand oil and cocktail of chemicals (to decrease the viscosity from the tar sands fields of Alberta, Canada to Patoka, Illinois.)
The pipeline’s owners have previously estimated that over the course of 50 years, the pipeline would spill 11 times. This equates to roughly once every seven years. But how wrong these estimations were. The pipeline has leaked four times in the first nine years also since it first began working in 2010.
A major problem with leaking tar sands oil is that when the chemicals diluted into the oil starts to evaporate, it causes toxic air pollution in the surrounding area and leaves a path thick, heavy oil called bitumen that coats everything it comes into contact with.
According to Diane Orihel, professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Queen’s University,
“Once bitumen sinks to the bottom of a lake or wetland, it is much more problematic to clean up than conventional oil, which floats nicely and can be skimmed off the surface.”
Multiple wetland areas in the Dakotas are used by the pipeline and this most recent leak has happened in a very important breeding ground for migratory birds.
What’s more, due to mono-culture and aggressive agriculture techniques employed in the area, the total area of wetlands in the Dakotas continues to fall, with or without oil leaks.
Jeanne Crumly, whose cattle ranch sits along Keystone XL’s approved path said:
“The spill confirms what we have been warning people about over the last 10 years,”
According to Reuters,
“TC Energy had already begun eminent domain proceedings against 89 families who live along the Keystone XL route.”
“TC Energy immediately began the process to shut down the pipeline, activated its emergency response procedures and dispatched ground technicians to assess the situation,”
It is unclear when the leak began and for low long it has been leaking.
Dave Glatt, State Environmental Quality Chief, notes that regulators were told of the spill near Edinburg, North Dakota, on Tuesday evening after a drop in pressure was noticed. As of the Wednesday afternoon, regulators estimated the leak covered an area of 1,500 feet long by 15 feet wide
The company is still currently working to try and contain the leak with roads in and out of the area closed while an official investigation into the cause of the spill continues.
Although the wetland have been affected, Glatt points out that drinking water has not been polluted.
The pipeline cost $5.2 billion to build and has a maximum carrying capacity of 590,000-barrels per day. It is part of a 2,687-mile system that if regulators approve, will include the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kip Spotted Eagle, a local tribal officer, told a state panel in South Dakota that the Keystone XL pipeline should be banned from redirecting water from three rives in South Dakota. The pipeline will also infringe on the tribes’ hunting and fishing grounds says The Yankton Sioux Tribe historic preservation officer.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a staggering $8 billion project and is aiming to have permits granted to use water from the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers in South Dakota. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources are recommending that the permits are granted.