Keystone Pipeline Spills Estimated 383,000 Gallons of Crude Oil in North Dakota Wetland

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An aerial photo of the Oct. 29, 2019 Keystone oil spill in North Dakota..
Source: Associated Press, “Keystone Pipeline Leaks Oil in Northeastern North Dakota,” foxbusiness.com, Nov. 1, 2019

About 9,120 barrels of oil leaked from the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota starting on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. The spill affected 22,500 square feet of wetlands. The leaking portion of the pipeline, which is operated by TC Energy, was shut down after the leak was discovered.

The amount of oil spilled would fill approximately half of an Olympic swimming pool and will impact wetland vegetation and soil. This is the second large spill in two years from the Keystone pipeline; in Nov. 2017, about 200,000 gallons of oil leaked in South Dakota.

The Director of North Dakota’s Division of Water Quality, Karl Rockeman, stated, “At this time, we don’t see any impact to public health [and] there should be no disruption and no reason for any special precautions.” He estimated it could take years for the wetland to return to normal.

Tim Donaghy, Senior Research Specialist for Greenpeace USA, stated, “I wish I could say I was shocked, but a major spill from the Keystone pipeline is exactly what multiple experts predicted would happen. In fact, this is the fourth significant spill from the Keystone pipeline in less than ten years of operation. History has shown us time and again that there is no safe way to transport fossil fuels, and pipelines are no exception.”

Sara Raban, TC Energy spokesperson, stated, “We will take the learnings from this incident, like we do with anytime we have any incident, and use them to improve our pipeline integrity. [TC Energy invests] millions of dollars each year to ensure we operate [a] safe pipeline system.” TC Energy says that the Keystone Pipeline is an environmentally responsible way to transport oil and that pipeline construction creates tens of thousands of jobs.

The Keystone pipeline, which can transport about 23 million gallons of oil a day, was opened in 2011 and currently runs for 1,179 miles from the Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces in Canada through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri before ending at refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma.

The Trump administration approved the expansion of the Keystone pipeline in 2017 after construction was halted by President Obama in 2015. The pipeline is planned to run into Texas based on an executive order and construction permits issued by President Trump. The project is currently held up in court while a judge determines if Trump has the authority to approve the $8 billion expansion.

Read what the 2020 candidates think about fossil fuel extraction on public lands on our 2020 election site.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should the US government approve continued construction of the Keystone Pipeline? Why or why not?

2. Is the need to transport oil worth the environmental risk of a spill? Can you think of some ways that people use the oil?

3. Should the US depend more on alternative energies? Which one? Why or why not?

Sources:

Max Cohen, “Portion of Keystone Pipeline Shut Down after 380,000-Gallon Oil Leak in North Dakota,” usatoday.com, Nov. 2, 2019

Phil Helsel, “Leak in Keystone Pipeline Spills 9,000 Barrels of Oil in North Dakota,” nbcnews.com, Oct. 31, 2019

Jake Johnson, “‘It Happens over and over and over and over’: Keystone Pipeline Leaks (at Least) 383,000 Gallons of Crude Oil in North Dakota,” rawstory.com, Nov. 1, 2019

Hannah Knowles, “Keystone Pipeline Spills 383,000 Gallons of Oil in North Dakota This Week,” sciencealert.com, Nov. 1, 2019

David Murray, “Future of Keystone XL Pipeline Could Be Decided in November,” usatoday.com, Oct. 11, 2019

TC Energy, “Overview,” tcenergy.com (accessed Nov. 4, 2019)