About 5,000 barrels of oil, or about 795,000 litres, gushed out of the Keystone pipeline on Thursday in South Dakota, blackening a grassy field in the remote northeast part of the state and sending cleanup crews and emergency workers scrambling to the site.
“This is not a little spill from any perspective,” said Kim McIntosh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. No livestock or drinking water sources appeared to be threatened, McIntosh said, and no farm buildings or houses are within a kilometre.
The spill, near Amherst, S.D., came just days before regulators in neighbouring Nebraska decide whether to grant the final permit needed to begin construction on a different pipeline proposal, the Keystone XL, which would be operated by the same company. An announcement in Nebraska is expected Monday.
The pipeline company, TransCanada, said in a statement that the South Dakota leak was detected about 6 a.m. Thursday. The pipeline was shut down, and the cause of the leak was under investigation.
“TransCanada appreciates the collaborative support of local officials, emergency response personnel and commissioners in Marshall County, as well as the landowner who has given permission to access land for assessment, identification and cleanup activities,” the company said.
A photo of the spill, which was posted to the company’s Twitter account, showed a large, darkened area in a field. The Keystone pipeline is part of a 4,325-kilometre system that carries crude oil from Alberta to several points in the United States, including Illinois and Oklahoma.
Opponents of Keystone XL, which is proposed to run about 1,700 kilometres and would become part of the Keystone system, quickly cited Thursday’s spill as evidence of the risks posed by such pipelines, and urged Nebraska regulators to take note.
“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,” Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club said. “This is not the first time TransCanada’s pipeline has spilled toxic tarsands, and it won’t be the last.”