Four days before Nebraska was set to decide on TransCanada Corp’s long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, a environmental & climate disaster happened – and more than 5,000 barrels of oil leaked in South Dakota. The spill worried a lot of people, especially residents nearby who are now frightened to death of the consequences after the spill.
According to the opponents of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the South Dakota oil spill triggered the risks that were originally posed by the XL project which were linked to fossil-fuel pollution as well as global warming. Knowing that a leak like this drastically changes the environmentalist approach on fossil-fuel pollution, authorities were asked for their statements as soon as the leak was discovered.
Speaking of which, the South Dakota oil spill was first noticed in the town of Amherst on a Thursday morning (16th November). According to sources, the leak happened as soon as the systems detected a drop in pressure. Since then, authorities have been working and investing the case in detail.
Even though the spill occurred below-ground, some oil has surfaced above the ground to the grass. A photo of the spill was first posted to the company’s Twitter account, showing a large and darkened area in a field. (see below)
The pipeline was shut down within minutes of the company discovering the irregularities – and the spill has since been controlled with no further environmental impacts observed and no threat to public safety, according to TransCanada.
The South Dakota Oil Spill Came From An Underground Pipeline
A day after the spill, South Dakota’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources came out with a statement. Brian Walsh, the official spokesman, said that the leak came from the underground pipeline and that it contained the site.
Soon after that, the US President Donald Trump also made the news with his earlier statement about Keystone XL which he saw as ‘a key plank in the US energy policy’. Trump handed a federal permit to TransCanada in March this year, reversing Obama’s decision to reject the project that was studied and planned for years.
For ones who don’t know, the goal of the Keystone XL project was to serve an extension of the existing Keystone system that connects the oil from Alberta to US refineries. This will supposedly lower fuel prices, shore up the national security and create more job opportunities.
South Dakota Residents Devastated From The Leak – And With Concerns About The Spill
Even though there should have been a lot of significant economic benefits from this project as announced by TransCanada, the South Dakota oil spill showed the very opposite and scared a lot of people.
Recently, a lawyer representing the landowners that are opposed to the Keystone XL project said: “If this spill had happened along the proposed route in Nebraska, it would be absolutely devastating. Their proposed route is within a mile of thousands of water wells.”
A lot of Greenpeace activists also joined and started paying attention to this big story, pointing their fingers towards the regulatory bodies that will rule on the Keystone XL project. As the Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles across the US, there are a lot of raised eyebrows nowadays following the leak.
As Dave Flute, the tribal chairman for Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe said, “We want to know how long is it going to take to dig this plume of contaminated soil and how can we be reassured, without a doubt, that it has not and will not seep into the aquifer.”
Flute along with the tribal emergency management director met with representatives from TransCanada and said that they were out there to offer assistance and to truly understand the cause of the leak and the environmental impacts that it may pose.
Wondering if the South Dakota oil spill was caused by a crack or something else, it is still unknown whether they took a closer look at the spill. However, as Rachel Rye Butler of Greenpeace claimed , “a permit approval allowing Canadian oil company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL will be a thumbs-up to more likely spills in the future.”
Nebraska Public Service Commission Approves In-State Pipeline Route
The Nebraska Public Service Commission has approved the in-state pipeline route of the Keystone XL, disregarding the South Dakota oil spill and all of the effects that it caused. If their rejected the project, it would have been a major setback for both Trump and the Canadian energy sector (that needs more export routes in order to create better prices).
The officials at the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to approve the Keystone XL pipeline route, picking one of the company’s alternative routes. The estimated pipeline is worth $8 billion and will be 1,179 mile long, delivering oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast refineries. It will cross parts of Montana, South Dakota as well as Nebraska with an end in Steele City, Nebraska.
There are many land owners who are opposing the pipeline and still fighting against its development, claiming that ‘TransCanada will steal their land and do harm to the water and a lot of resources, as well as the future generations’.
Aside from the Nebraska Public Service Commission, many other states already approved the XL’s route which makes the project official. However, the South Dakota oil spill led TransCanada to shut the Keystone pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta up to Cushing, Oklahoma stretching to Wood River and Patoka in Illinois.
A Grassy Field That Is Now Blackened: What Will Happen To The Land?
The 210,000 gallons of oil that gushed out of the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this month blackened a grassy field in the remote northeast part of the state. As soon as the accident occurred, there were cleanup crews and emergency workers scrambling to the site.
Environmental scientists agreed that this is one of the largest spills to ever happen. The good thing is that no livestock or drinking water appeared to be threatened – and no farm buildings or houses exist within a mile of the spill radius.
The biggest fear by residents nearby and environmental activists is that pipelines do leak, and the odds of that happening again may strike any place as the route continues. What stirs the discussions is the fact that this is not the first time TransCanada’s pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands – and it is certainly not the last.
A lot of environmental activists are doubting the effects of the South Dakota leak. As they say, the situation is being constantly monitored and the leak is adjacent to their reservation. So far, no one can know the impact that this leak will have on the environment – but everyone is aware of the leak. According to Ms. McIntosh, South Dakota’s environmental official, “TransCanada employees and contractors constantly out there cleaning the soil. the good thing is that the location of this is not in a sensitive area. They’ve got a response plan that they kicked in right away.”
Another good thing is that there is no one nearby drinking any of the groundwater that may be impacted which makes this less of an issue to the local residents’ health.
Keystone XL Pipeline To Resume The Transportation Of Oil From Tuesday
Nearly two weeks after the South Dakota oil spill occurred, officials said that all oil shipments are set to resume. As soon as the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration reviewed and approved the repair that TransCanada workers made, the company is about to put the line back in service.
Even though the pipeline will work at a reduced pressure starting Tuesday, it will ensure a safe and gradual increase in the volume of crude oil moving through the system, according to officials. A lot of experts said that they don’t believe that the leak polluted any surface water bodies or any drinking water systems.
The All New Keystone XL: What Has Been Planned
In March this year, President Donald Trump issued a permit that approved the official construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. After years of rejection by Obama and a lot of debates aimed towards the environmental impact of this spill and the hefty opposition from environmental groups, the Keystone XL was made official.
However, the claims of opposing groups have still been here, arguing that the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands which actually pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. There were also some environmentalists who opposed the pipeline because of the fact that it cuts right across the Ogallala Aquifer which is one of the world’s largest underground deposits of fresh water.
Since tar sands oil is thicker (and stickier) compared to traditional oil, the cleanup efforts for the South Dakota oil spill have been significantly greater. The fact that this oil is thicker also means that it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials in order to be transported in pipelines.
There were even some Native American groups that argued against this pipeline, saying that it would cut across their sovereign lands. Trump, however, said that Keystone XL will be a big win for the American workers – but critics confirmed that most of the jobs would be temporary.
TransCanada’s Keystone XL And The Dakota Access Pipeline
As TransCanada said this Thursday, the section of the Keystone Pipeline that was leaking was isolated within 15 minutes after they located a drop in pressure. However, this is the third pipeline spill in the state this year, and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website confirms that.
In April, there were around 84 gallons of crude oil spilled from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in Spink County. When compared to the South Dakota oil spill, this is certainly nothing. However, the Dakota Access Pipeline leak drew a lot of resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, its allies and environmentalists.
There were even protests with as many as 10,000 people participating in the peak of the demonstrations, as well as police clashes which even turned violent at times, with a woman nearly losing her arm because of an explosion.
About the past oil spills…
It was a year ago that congress democrat Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii went all the way to North America alongside several US Military veterans, to mark protest the Dakota Access Pipeline Construction. Tulsi was joined in the protest by Standing Water Sioux and the Water Protectors. The native tribes who joined hands in protesting for the sovereignty of tribal populace, treaty rights and were in a mission against the brutality inflicted by DAPL and its Energy Partners such as Keystone TransCanada. Tulsi Gabbard was vocal to the entire fossil fuel industry that they must stay low and if they fail to do so, it would lead to unprecedented consequences from the masses.
As per Tulsi Gabbard, safe pipeline is something that is non-existential. Previously, the Gulf of Mexico witnessed an oil spill of 672,000 gallons near South Dakota and the potential dangers that arise from extraction of fossil fuels. Hence, she opines that pipelines are to be avoided.
Although Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt think otherwise, fossil fuels will be a lost game in a short span. It is only United States that is still sticking to energy sources while other countries are slowly transitioning based on the Paris Climate Agreement. Technically, it does not make much sense for America to continue subsidizing on oil, natural gas and coal while other countries are making huge bets by investing in technology. Tulsi Gabbard strongly pointed, that if we do not stick to cleaner methods of energy, it might lead to losing of jobs and it will deter the environment and the economic status of the country.
When Tulsi Gabbard traveled to the Oceti Sakowin camp located in Standing Rock, she was immensely inspired and it led to the introduction of OFF Act of the Congress during this year. As per the bill introduced by Tulsi, it serves to be beneficial for the scientific community and this move was well-appreciated by the scientific community as it makes 100% renewable energy a mandate by the year 2035. Tulsi Gabbard further continued on the issues and we all note that, it has a clause where 80% of the energy should come from renewable sources by 2027. Rather than offering subsidies on fossil fuels, the same money can be invested on building better infrastructure and investing on clean energy sources, as it will be beneficial for the environment and will result in lower energy charges, making it advantageous in the long run.
She said, Water is an essential resource and we should do our bit in conserving water. instead of companies considering their profits, they should look at the bigger picture and ensure that we are working on sustainable ways for our planet.
Based on our actions now, we can provide clean air, water and land to every individual in the United States.
Douglas Yankton, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe, expressed his frustration for the South Dakota oil spill, claiming that native American people are opposed to pipelines just because of leaks like these. He also said that the plains tribes are especially concerned about the potential spills that may occur near water sources. However, even then, accidents don’t have to pollute ponds, streams or aquifers in order to be troubling.
‘They Just Do What They Want’
Says Vice-Chair Of The Spirit Lake Tribe
“Even if it’s not near water, you’re still doing damage to the land. The land is just as sacred as the water.”
When asked about the Trump administration and their efforts on preventing problems like these in the future, Yankton said
“They don’t even follow their own regulations,” he said. “They just do what they want.”
Sarah Jumping Eagle, a Standing Rock protestor has joined with same thoughts on the South Dakota oil spill, expressing her opinions to a National Geographic writer Saul Elbein.
“Fracking, tar sands and crude oil pipeline spills, radioactive frack waste, and the associated chemicals being spilled and dumped into our rivers and aquifers have resulted in the largest public health experiment on Earth. How long will we stand by and watch?”
A Final Word
What was once stalled by Obama’s administration is now a project that significantly aids in the crude oil development in United States – but also one that puts many risks to the residents of the states where the Keystone XL is passing.
Despite TransCanada announcements that they are doing everything to keep the situation under control, residents, activists and tribe members are concerned of new potential leaks in places near fresh water.
TransCanada has said that they will continue providing updates on the story as they become available.
Official Tulsi Gabbard Sites: