A pipeline that carries tar sands oil from Canada through seven states has leaked thousands of gallons of crude oil over more than a quarter-mile swath in northeastern North Dakota.
Photo: Matthew Brown/Associated Press
Photo: Matthew Brown/Associated Press

383,000 gallons of oil spill from Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota

The Keystone Pipeline System, an addition to which has been the subject of environmental protests for years, leaked about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, covering an estimated half-acre of wetland, state environmental regulators said. 

The spill, which has been contained, occurred in a low-gradient drainage area near the small town of Edinburg in northeast North Dakota, less than 50 miles from the Canadian border, according to Karl Rockeman, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s division of water quality. 

“It is one of the larger spills in the state,” he said in an email. 

The situation

There are no residences near the site and the wetland is not a source of drinking water, he said. State regulators and cleanup equipment are on site, but Rockeman could not say whether cleanup had begun. 

The leak occurred along a stretch of the Keystone Pipeline System, not the 1,179-mile-long addition to that system known as the Keystone XL Pipeline, he said. 

Political implications

Keystone XL has been the subject of environmental protests for years. President Barack Obama denied it a permit in 2015. A federal judge blocked it last year, saying more environmental study was needed. But in March, President Donald Trump cleared a path for its operator, TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to proceed. 

» FROM 2017: Trump uses executive actions to advance controversial pipeline plans

Earlier this week, opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada said the Trump administration was understating the potential for the line to break and spill into water bodies such as Montana's Missouri River, as the U.S. State Department held the sole public meeting on a new environmental review of the long-stalled proposal. 

»RELATED: US State Department oil pipeline review doesn't ease worries

Tuesday's meeting, held at a conference center in Billings, was not a public hearing, and attendees were invited to use computer terminals to submit formal comments. The event briefly turned into a shouting match between pipeline backers and opponents, reflecting Keystone XL's emergence as a political lightning rod since it was first proposed in 2008. 

Backers say the $8 billion project would create thousands of construction jobs and boost local tax revenues. TC Energy insists the line would be safe, despite spills on other lines operated by the company.

Cause of spill unknown

In a statement, TC Energy said the pipeline was shut down after the spill was detected at 9:20 p.m. local time Tuesday. The cause of the spill will not be known, the statement said, until an internal investigation is complete and the pipeline is analyzed by federal officials. 

“We are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response,” the statement said. 

Governor weighs in

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said he wants the owner of the Keystone pipeline to review its inspection and monitoring of the line. 

Burgum said he spoke Thursday to TC Energy officials about the spill. He said he "received assurance" from the company the spill would be cleaned up "as thoroughly and quickly as possible."

Previous spills

In 2017, a spill along the Keystone Pipeline System coated a stretch of grassland in South Dakota with more than 407,000 gallons of leaked Canadian crude oil, which was nearly twice as much as originally estimated, according to the company. The pipeline also leaked about 16,000 gallons each in spills in 2011 in North Dakota and in 2016 in South Dakota. 

The original Keystone Pipeline System began operation in 2010 and carries crude oil from Alberta, Canada, south to Texas. The system contains 2,687 miles of pipeline.

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