One photo shows how the Keystone pipeline is living up to activists' biggest fears

  • The Keystone Pipeline has spilled far more oil than TransCanada Corp, the company that operates the project, predicted.
  • President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead for an extension, called the Keystone XL pipeline, to be built after former President Barack Obama rejected the proposal.
  • The frequent and large spills confirm activists’ fears about the pipeline.

The Keystone pipeline has leaked far more oil than the Canadian company that operates the project initially predicted to regulators.

TransCanada Corp, which operates the pipeline that links Alberta’s oil fields with US refineries in Texas, was forced to shut it down temporarily after 5,000 barrels of oil – or 210,000 gallons – leaked in a rural area of South Dakota earlier in November.

TransCanada provided an assessment to regulators in South Dakota before the pipeline’s construction that predicted the a leak of more than 50 barrels would not happen “more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States,” according to documents reviewed by Reuters. The risk assessment was carried out by a contractor, DNV GL.

But the pipeline has already had three spills since it started operating in 2010 – all of which leaked at least 400 barrels. Two of the spills occurred in South Dakota. The picture below, taken by a drone, shows the damage the most recent spill caused on surrounding cropland:

TransCanada is planning to expand the pipeline with the Keystone XL project. President Donald Trump is pushing for the extension to be built, though former President Barack Obama rejected it on environmental grounds, adding that it wouldn’t create jobs or lower energy prices, and would “undercut” the US’s leadership on fighting climate change.

Trump signed an executive action in January to advance construction of the pipeline. He has spoken in favour of the new construction as a way to boost the US energy industry, and said the pipeline would be constructed with US steel. The XL extension has since been exempted from that rule.

Members of the South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission told Reuters they may revoke TransCanada’s operating permit, pending the results of a probe into the spill earlier this month.

“They testified that this is going to be a state-of-the-art pipeline,” Gary Hanson, a member of the commission, told Reuters. “We want to know the pipeline is going to operate in a fashion that is safe and reliable. So far it’s not going well.”

Nebraska regulators, on the other hand, approved the XL pipeline’s proposed route through their state last week despite the disastrous spill in South Dakota.

Climate activists have made opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline – a separate pipeline project in North and South Dakota – a symbol of the fight against global warming and the fossil fuel industry.

In December of last year, thousands of people gathered in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which was set to run underneath the Standing Rock Sioux reservation’s land. The Sioux said a spill would be disastrous for the reservation’s water resources.

The Dakota Access pipeline began commercial operations in June, though a D.C. district court ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an additional environmental review on the pipeline’s risks in July.

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