The Keystone Pipeline has spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota wetland, underscoring the risks that Native American protestors and environmental activists have been warning about for years.
The Oct. 29 spill released an estimated 383,000 gallons about three miles from the town of Edinburg, about 35 miles south of the Canadian border. Last week’s spill is one of the 10 largest onshore oil spills in the U.S. since 2010, the year an Enbridge pipeline released more than 800,000 gallons of highly toxic diluted bitumen crude into a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
The spill was the second biggest spill for the controversial Keystone Pipeline in two years. In 2017, the pipeline cracked and released several hundred thousand gallons of crude oil near Amherst, South Dakota. Several other smaller spills have gushed from the pipeline since it opened in 2010 to transport crude from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.
Those opposed to the plans to expand the pipeline say last week’s spill provides further evidence that its owner, the Canadian firm TC Energy, should not be allowed to expand the pipeline.
TC Energy has been working on plans to add several hundred miles of the pipeline through the middle of the U.S. The plan involves the line cutting through tribal lands and vital water systems. This extension, known as the Keystone XL, was approved by the Trump administration in 2017. A federal judge, however, blocked the project until further assessment of the environmental risks could be completed.
U.S. State Department officials were holding public meetings in Billings, Montana, last week to gather comments about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline when the spill occurred. The contentious hearings had already drawn hundreds of concerned citizens and demonstrators vehemently opposed to the proposed expansion.
“When we’re sitting in a hearing room and people are saying these pipelines are safe, then this happens,” Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, told the Associated Press.
Environmental authorities said that it could take years for the wetland impacted by the oil spill to return to its normal state.
TC Energy officials haven’t said what is causing so many problems with the Keystone pipeline, only that each incident provides an opportunity to learn and improve.
Critics say that the Keystone pipeline’s history of leaks and spills is a reflection of TC’s Energy’s sloppy work.
“Certainly it’s another example of the poor quality of construction and problems that we have seen repeatedly not only with the Keystone 1 but with the overall practices of this company that wants to build another pipeline through our state,” Rebecca Terk of Dakota Rural Action told the AP.
TC Energy has shut down large sections of the pipeline and will reopen them once the cracked pipeline is repaired. The company also sent cleanup crews to the spill site. TC Energy said it won’t know precisely how much oil has spilled until it’s all recovered. It estimated the 2017 spill to be 210,000 gallons but revised that quantity to more than 400,000 after recovering the oil.
Beasley Allen’s Toxic Torts section handles cases of economic and health impacts resulting from environmental disasters. Lawyers in the section, which is headed by Rhon Jones, have worked on cases including a toxic coal ash spill in Tennessee, and the BP oil spill, which affected thousands of people in a number of states along the Gulf Coast.