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Keystone Pipeline Spills 1.4 Million Litres in North Dakota

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Repairs and clean-up could take anywhere from 10 days to two or three months after the Keystone pipeline spilled more than 1.4 million litres [1] (9,119 barrels) of tar sands/oil sands diluted bitumen along a quarter-mile/0.4-kilometre stretch of northeastern North Dakota Tuesday.

Pipeline operator TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada Corporation, shut down the line after detecting the leak, and wasn’t responding to media questions Wednesday.

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“State regulators were on the scene Wednesday afternoon, and they estimated that the area of the spill was 1,500 feet long by 15 feet wide,” The Associated Press reports [3]. State Department of Environmental Quality Director Dave Glatt said the spill affected some wetlands but no sources of drinking water.

AP recalls that the 590,000-barrel-per-day pipeline has had a number of spills since it went into operation in 2010—most recently in 2017, when TransCanada initially reported it had spilled 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) in South Dakota. A year later, the company acknowledged [4] the spill had totalled 9,700 barrels, making it one of the worst inland spills in the United States since 2010.

“Keystone has leaked substantially more oil, and more often [5], in the United States than the company indicated to regulators in risk assessments before operations began in 2010,” Reuters wrote at the time. The 2017 spill “gave further ammunition to environmental groups and other U.S. opponents of another pipeline the company has proposed, the long-delayed Keystone XL.”

The Globe and Mail reported [6] yesterday that the latest spill had shut down TC Energy’s Marketlink pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas, after the company initially said the connecting line was unaffected. “The initial guesses on a pipeline leak of this magnitude are seven to 10 days (of repairs), which will reduce flows into Cushing by about 3.0 to 3.5 million barrels of heavy crude and some synthetic crude,” said fossil broker Scott Shelton.

But Walsh County emergency response manager Brent Nelson put the repair time closer to two or three months, Reuters reports [7], prompting OilPrice.com to flag [8] the spill as “disastrous for Canadian oil”.

“The latest spill is yet another reminder that while the industry trumpets pipelines as the safest way to move oil, spills are not exactly a rarity,” notes independent journalist Nick Cunningham. “There are hundreds of significant incidents with pipelines each year, a term that encompasses injuries, fatalities, highly volatile liquid releases, or monetary damages. For instance, there were 636 such incidences in the U.S. in 2018, and 647 the year before, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).”

Using an earlier data set, the U.S. Center for Biological Diversity documents the scope of the impact here [9].

“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,” said [10] U.S. Sierra Club Associate Director Catherine Collentine. “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.”

“Another high-profile spill is grist for the mill for environmental groups and landowners opposing the Keystone XL,” OilPrice notes. “After all, the same company presiding over spills from the older Keystone pipeline is the one that has spent years trying to convince communities that the Keystone XL Pipeline won’t spill. Multiple incidents from the older pipeline do not inspire confidence.”

And for Canada’s fossil industry, “any lengthy interruptions to midstream capacity would be another blow,” the U.S. publication writes. After the 2017 spill, benchmark crude prices in the U.S. jumped sharply, while the price of Alberta oil “fell sharply” as fossils struggled to ship their product.

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