Oil surfaces along pipeline but no damage found
FREEMAN, S.D. -- TransCanada officials are still searching for the cause of an oil slick discovered in southeast South Dakota that shut down a major pipeline.
FREEMAN, S.D. - TransCanada officials are still searching for the cause of an oil slick discovered in southeast South Dakota that shut down a major pipeline.
A team of about 100 workers assembled by TransCanada continued the excavation of part of its Keystone oil pipeline Monday after a landowner reported seeing standing oil in a field Saturday afternoon, about 5 miles southwest of Freeman, which about 50 miles southwest of Sioux Falls.
“We’re not exactly sure what’s taken place here, so we are taking this very seriously, and it’s something we want to take care of as soon as possible,” said TransCanada Spokesperson Shawn Howard.
The section of pipeline is expected to be shut down until later this week and may impact customers as far as Illinois.
The Keystone pipeline runs from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, running through eastern North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. The pipeline system also stretches east through Missouri into Illinois. Howard said TransCanada has not had many problems with its pipeline systems.
“Incidents on a pipeline system are very rare. It’s something we are taking extremely seriously,” Howard said.
Contractors drilled a hole over the spill area to reach the pipeline, which is buried under 9 feet of soil, but Howard said crews did not locate any cracks or other damage that could cause a leak.
“At this point, we don’t even know if there is a leak in the pipeline itself. We don’t know where the product has come from, so that’s something we have to figure out,” Howard said.
Crews drilled boreholes around the area, looking for anything that may have caused the accumulation and are clearing away soil that was contaminated.
The spill comes five months after the federal government rejected TransCanada’s proposal to build their Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have passed through western South Dakota, amid environmental fears.
Dakota Rural Action, a conservation group that identifies its job as protecting “our family farmers and ranchers, natural resources and unique way of life,” issued a statement Monday about the spill.
“It’s more than a little concerning that the spill happened two days ago and the public is only now finding out, and that there’s a good possibility that the pipeline itself is the issue,” Sue Sibson, a Dakota Rural Action member whose land is crossed by the pipeline, said in a press release.
The oil was discovered in a ditch in the field, which confined it from flowing to other locations. TransCanada closed a segment of pipe on either side of the spill area and vacuumed the standing oil into trucks. Officials declined to estimate the amount of oil that was spilled.
Howard said other than the landowners, Loren and Jennifer Schultz, their customers were the people who experienced the direct impact. The Schultz family could not be reached for comment Monday.
“We need to understand exactly what’s happened here,” Howard said. “We’ll be working closely with the regulatory agencies to develop plans.”
One of those regulatory agencies is the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources. Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist with DENR’s groundwater quality program, traveled to the scene Sunday to ensure TransCanada was properly addressing the situation.
“Based on what I’ve seen so far on this release, they have taken the necessary steps and are working through the process like a responsible party should,” Walsh said.
Walsh said he will remain in communication with TransCanada as they proceed with the cleanup effort.
“Our primary goal is to make sure all the applicable environmental regulations, be it clean up or disposal, are complied with,” Walsh said.
After the cleanup is complete, TransCanada will submit reports to DENR, which will ultimately decide whether the site can be closed out. Then, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will decide if the pipeline can be reopened.
In the past 10 years, DENR has responded to seven oil pipeline spills in South Dakota, including one Keystone pump station leak near Freeman in August 2010.