In October 2019 a major oil pipeline suffered a leak that covered half an acre of wetland in North Dakota, USA, in crude oil. The pipeline carries oil from Alberta, Canada, to southern Texas. This is its second largest spill in two years.

Latest news indicates that the amount of land impacted by the oil spill is almost 10 times larger than initially reported, which has not been acknowledged by TC Energy, the company that runs the Keystone network. Under their website FAQs the company states that the original estimate of leakage is correct.

The incident began on 29 October, when about 383,000 US gallons (1.4 million litres) of crude oil leaked near the town of Edinburg, less than 50 miles from the Canadian border. The pipeline was shut down when the leak was discovered, but returned to service on 10 November following government approval.

Environmental organisations, Indigenous communities and Native American groups continue to oppose the extension. “It has never been if
a pipeline breaks, but rather when,” Joye Braun, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told CNN. The extraction of crude oil from oil sands releases 17% more greenhouse gasses than other extraction techniques, prompting concerns about increasing global emissions.

Karl Rockeman, director of North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality (DoEQ), told The New York Times that it was “one of the larger spills in the State”.

Commissioned in 2010, Keystone 1 suffered twelve spills in its first year of operation, and spilled more than US 400,000 gallons of oil on to farmland in South Dakota in 2017.

The Keystone network is set to be extended after US president Donald Trump undermined his predecessor Barack Obama’s decision to reject TC Energy’s application for Keystone XL, a line that is planned to span 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, US. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted that as President he will “shut down Keystone Pipeline”.

Reacting to the latest spill, Sierra Club associate director Catherine Collentine said: “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.

“It becomes clearer and clearer that this is not safe,” he told The Washington Post.

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will begin in March.


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