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TC Energy Restarts Keystone Pipeline While Studying Why 1.4 Million Litres Spilled

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TC Energy is restarting the Keystone pipeline while it works to understand why the line spilled more than 1.4 million litres (9,120 barrels) of tar sands/oil sands diluted bitumen along a quarter-mile/0.4-kilometre stretch of northeastern North Dakota late last month. The incident has only strengthened the resolve of Nebraska landowners fighting the company’s efforts to expropriate their land to build the fiercely-contested Keystone XL pipeline.

The Calgary-based pipeliner formerly known as TransCanada Corporation “is still investigating what caused the incident and analyzing the segment of removed pipe,” CBC reports [1], citing a company news release. For now, TC “will operate it at a reduced pressure, gradually increasing the volume of crude oil moving through the system,” a plan approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

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“The spill was one of the largest onshore crude oil spills in the region in the last decade, and Keystone’s largest spill,” CBC notes. “Around 200 personnel have been working around the clock to clean up the site, and have recovered more than 1.08 million litres of oil” as of Sunday afternoon.

The Nebraskans see a link to their fight against Keystone XL because this is the fourth major spill [3] from Keystone, Reuters reports [4], demonstrating “that the existing Keystone system has leaked substantially more oil, and more often, in the United States than indicated in risk assessments the company provided to regulators before it was built.” Those assessments, the news agency adds, “estimated that a leak of more 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’.”

The reality [5] has been far worse, with the three other major spills from Keystone releasing “some 9,700 barrels of oil in a South Dakota wetland area in 2017, and around 400 barrels each in incidents in South Dakota in 2016 and North Dakota in 2011.”

Cattle rancher Jeanne Crumly, whose land borders on KXL’s approved [6] route, said the latest spill “confirms what we have been warning people about over the last 10 years.”

That kind of pushback is expected to drive a spate of district court appeals, as landowners fearful of what an oil spill will do to their pastures and animals intensify their fight against “TC Energy’s efforts to seize land by eminent domain, the legal provision allowing a government or company to take control of private land for the public good,” Reuters writes.

A lawyer for the Nebraskan landowners, Brian Jorde, said the pipeline company, permits in hand, has already begun expropriating 89 families who make their homes and livelihoods along the Keystone XL route. Bold Alliance “may try to challenge TC Energy again before the state Public Service Commission, which had approved the route through Nebraska,” citing the latest spill as further proof that TC Energy has been misleading the state and its citizens about the safety of its pipelines. But a PSC spokesperson dismissed that idea.

“Our role in the process is complete,” she told Reuters.Meanwhile, National Public radio reports [7] that an effort by Montana activists to block one of KXL’s federal permits, arguing that it fails to address concerns for downstream watersheds that would be affected in a spill, “continues to wend its way through the courts”.