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Thursday, July 29, 2010

TransCanada Keystone Springs Two Leaks in Two Months, Meets Century Spill Quota

I was wrong: the June oil spew at Pump Station 22 near Roswell on the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline was not the first reported spill. Shortly after posting the DENR report on the Roswell incident, I received this DENR report documenting a 5-gallon leak at Pump Station 21 near Carpenter in Beadle County on May 21, 2010. This time a leaky valve was the culprit.

Leaky valve... would that be anywhere near a pipe joint... the kind of joint Welspun might have built... the kind of joint that was the source of hundreds of defects in Welspun-supplied steel in other pipelines built between 2007 and 2009?

Five gallons doesn't sound like much, and tar sands oil is supposed to be relatively more viscous than regular crude oil, meaning it shouldn't spread as much. But heavy rain during the leak appears to have spread the oil around the site in a 47x29-foot area. The clean-up crew ended up hauling away 185 cubic yards of contaminated dirt and 9356 gallons of contaminated water. Compare that to the 100-gallon leak at Roswell, which resulted in removal of 200 cubic yards of oily soil and only 2500 gallons of yucky water.

A mere five gallons of spilled oil is pretty good for local business. The May spill report includes receipts from Safety-Kleen out of Sioux Falls for about $9500 in giant Shop-Vac services. I wonder if TransCanada and Governor Rounds included that in their promises of economic benefits from the pipeline.

Now here's the really good news about the Carpenter and Roswell spills: in its June 2006 pipeline risk assessment for its State Department permit application, TransCanada predicted the following spill frquencies:

Of the postulated 1.4 spills along the Keystone Pipeline system during a 10-year period, the study's findings suggest that approximately 0.2 would be 50 barrels or less; 0.8 would consist of 50 to 1000 barrels; 0.3 would consist of between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels; and 0.2 would contain more than 10,000 barrels (Appendix A). The spill volume frequency distribution likely underestimates the proportion of spill volumes under 50 barrels due to reliance upon the greater than 50 barrel reporting criteria within the USDOT incident database. The current analysis tends to overemphasize large spills and underreport the small spills, making the assessment conservative.

Based on probabilities generated from the study, the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years, a spill between 50 and 1,000 barrels might occur once in 12 years; a spill of 1,000 and 10,000 barrels might occur once in 39 years; and a spill containing more than 10,000 barrels might occur once in 50 years. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years [ENSR Corporation for TransCanada, "Pipeline Risk Assessment and Environmental Consequence Analysis," Document No. 10623-004, June 2006].

In other words (Canadian readers will appreciate this), two spills in one year means we are ahead by a century.

Now, if only our local media weren't behind by a century. If I were a paid journalist, I'd find two reported oil leaks before the pipeline became fully operational a significant story. But still no word from the mainstream media....

Bonus: Here's a reminder from WEB Water Development's June 2007 filing with the PUC on the environmental threat posed by the Keystone pipeline:

The TransCanada-Keystone Oil Pipeline plan calls for a wide separation between mainline automated valves and manual valves. For example, the distance between the pump station at the North Dakota-South Dakota state line and the next pumping station near Ferney, SD is about 42 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 156,660,000 gallons of crude-oil (3,728,571 barrels). The distance between the Fernery pump station and the next pump station near Carpenter, SD is about 47 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 175,312,000 gallons of crude oil (4,174,000 barrels). In addition to the 4 automated valves at compressor pump stations, the TransCanada-Keystone Pipeline will have 7 to 10 manually operated valves on the 220 miles of pipeline in South Dakota, with some valves being 20 to 30 miles apart. In the event of a major pipe failure, there may not be time to reach valves to stop the crude-oil from draining out of the pipeline on to productive farm land and into wetlands. Manually operated valves won’t do much good if the TransCanada operations staff are hundreds of miles away in Alberta or Omaha. A pipe failure at a low elevation point on either the 42 mile reach between North Dakota and Ferney, SD or the 47 mile reach between Ferney and Carpenter, SD could result in a spill of millions of gallons of crude oil. By way of comparison, the 155 mile WEB water mainline has 31 manual isolation valves, with each valve located every 5 miles, and six pump stations and control points which are monitored and operated by a computerized SCADA system and operations staff dispatched out of Aberdeen, South Dakota.


  1. I would think a low viscosity material would tend to spread more than a high viscosity...

  2. Not one word yet in any newspaper on two oil spills from a new pipeline. And yeah, 5 gallons ain't much for the second leak, but IT IS A NEW PIPELINE. Unacceptable.

    No offense Cory, but as an SDSU journalism grad and 9-year veteran of daily newspaper writing, I'm very surprised the only publication where this is news is a blog.

  3. Whoops—sorry, Tony! I meant that oil sands are relatively more viscous, which yes, means less spread potential. Edit made above.

  4. Rick,

    Mainstream media reporting on the Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines in South Dakota has been thin. Compare to the reporting about Keystone XL in Nebraska, for instance.

    Of course, in Nebraska, Congressional representatives have been willing to publicly ask questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. That has not happened in South Dakota.

    Kelly Fuller
    Communications Director
    Plains Justice

  5. Looks like I'm overdue on updating my post. Also, I should have subscribed to your RSS months ago. Solid blog.

    I wish MSM would report on this, but I have basically zero hope that they will take anything less than 1,000 gallons seriously....regardless how much land is tainted by a *mere* five...

  6. Thanks, Andrew -- where we have no hope for the MSM to wake up, well, that's where we come in! Keep up the good work!

    Rick, if I were a paid journalist, I might sit around and sulk about silly bloggers beating me to important stories... or I might try for synergy and build on their work, the way bloggers do with each other all the time to build a collaborative story.

    Kelly: Indeed! What is the Nebraska delegation drinking that ours isn't (or is it vice versa)?


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