The Keystone Pipeline has been temporarily shut down after it leaked more than 200,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, just days before Nebraska is set to decide the fate of its Keystone XL pipeline.
The leak, which TransCanada said happened about 35 kilometres south of its Ludden pump station on a right-of-way, comes as Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to vote on the Keystone XL project on Nov. 20 to clear the last major regulatory hurdle for the $8 billion project.
Crews shut down the controversial oil pipeline on Thursday morning. Officials are looking into the cause of the leak, which is the largest Keystone leak in South Dakota to date, according to a spokesman for the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
TransCanda, the company that operates the pipeline, said it had leaked 5,000 barrels – or about 210,000 gallons – before it was shut down.
In a statement, the company said the leak was "completely isolated within 15 minutes and emergency response procedures were activated".
Protesters have resisted the extension of the pipeline, which is slated to stretch from Canada to Texas, for fear of just such a leak. The extension would link Canada’s Alberta oil sands to refineries in the US. Residents of states in the pipeline's path worried it could contaminate local water supplies and have other, longer-term environmental impacts.
TransCanada Corp. said its crews shut down the Keystone pipeline system early this morning between Hardisty, Alta., and Cushing, Okla., and a line to Patoka, Ill., and that the line is expected to remain shut while it responds to the spill.
Warren Mabee, director of the Institute of Energy and Environmental Policy at Queens University, said the size of the spill is "bigger than the average sized spill in most years in Canada."
He said one spill in the long term doesn't really affect a company's safety track record, if they can show that they responded appropriately.
"But when it happens four days before they go into a review that becomes a real problem," he said.
Opponents of Keystone XL say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don't want it.
"Just days before the Nebraska Public Service Commissions decides on whether to approve Keystone XL we get a painful reminder of why no one wants a pipeline over their water supply," said Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema.
The Sierra Club was also quick to condemn the spill, urging the commission not to vote for the project.
"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," said campaign director Kelly Martin.
The pipeline would transport oilsands oil from Alberta through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines that feed Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
Meanwhile, residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, have filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil after a pipeline rupture there in March.
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