210,000 Gallons of Oil Leaked by Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota


Larry W. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency

Grace Fiori, Editor

Last Thursday 5,000 barrels of oil, around 210,000 gallons, were spilled in South Dakota from the Keystone Pipeline. So far no drinking water or farmland has been contaminated and no buildings are within a mile of the spill. The pipeline has been shut down and the cleanup process has begun, with a soil contamination crew, state officials, and officials from the pipelines company, TransCanada working to contain the spill.

The Keystone Pipeline is a section of a system of oil rigs and pipelines, spanning 2,687 miles long. It carries crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the U.S., servicing areas like Oklahoma and Illinois.

This leak has occurred only a short time before a decision was made on Monday, concerning whether or not to grant a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL, to be managed by the same company, TransCanada Corp. The state regulators who made the final decision, allowed the continuance of the project, but did not allow the predetermined route of the pipeline, only permitting it to continue if the pathway was shifted, drawing confusion on both sides of the argument around the pipeline. 

While Obama delayed the pipeline in 2015 over concerns of pollution, in March President Trump revived the program, and it has the support of many Republicans in Washington. The approval this Monday marked both the start of the project and the continuance of the confusion surrounding the pipeline’s fate. 

However, the Keystone XL pipeline has been a concern of local Nebraskan farmers over the harm a spill could cause to their land and groundwater. The pipeline would cross through Montana, South Dakota and a large portion of Nebraska.  

However, regarding the decision to approve the Keystone XL, the Nebraska Public Service Commission cannot legally take into account the pipeline safety or risk of spills, due to pipeline safety being a federal responsibility. This means that the 5,000 barrels of oil spilled in South Dakota are irrelevant to the final decision, even though it may have shifted many others on their stance on pipelines, especially members of the communities and counties the supposed pipeline would travel through. 

This is yet another instance in recent months of pipelines causing controversy in the U.S., from the Standing Rock Sioux  protest of a pipeline built on their reservation, to increasing awareness and concern over the environmental impact a pipeline could have. Pipelines have become a political tool, with many Democrats citing threats to drinking water and climate change, while many Republicans talk of increase in economy and jobs.

Critics of the pipeline have used the spills, like the one last Thursday, and threats they carry, to add weight to their argument against pipelines. Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club said in a statement, as reported by the New York Times, “We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us. This is not the first time TransCanada’s pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands, and it won’t be the last.”

Even though many promises of protest and prevention by opposers of the pipeline have been made, it is likely TransCanada will continue to push for the construction of Keystone XL. Even now that it has to adjust plans to reroute, the pipeline’s ability to transport 830,000 barrels of oil every day would allow the Western Canadian company to lessen costs and increase their name in the industry. Especially with a reduction of oil production in Mexico, and a pause in Venezuela’s oil with political turmoil, sources for the U.S. Oil supply are lessening, making this an ideal new market for the Alberta corporation. 

The following months will illuminate the future of the pipeline and the communities it affects in its new path, and whether or not this pipeline and it’s neighboring spill will have positive or negative impacts, on an environmental level, on a political level, and on the supporters and protesters of those on the pipeline.