TransCanada has estimated that the Keystone pipeline has leaked about 16,800 gallons of oil into a field in South Dakota, CNN reported on Thursday.
This represents a dramatic increase from the initial estimates of about 187 gallons of crude by TransCanada, which operates the pipeline. The leak, discovered by landowning farmer Loren Schultz on Saturday, led the North American energy giant to shut down the controversial pipeline in order to investigate the source.
The company reported the much larger estimate to the National Response Centre and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration. If true, the leak is equivalent to about 400 barrels of crude oil. It is still not clear how long the pipe was leaking before the spill was reported. KSFY reported the evidence for the new estimate.
“The company says the estimate is based on the excavation of soil to expose more than 100 feet of pipe and takes into account a number of factors including oil observed in the soil and the potential area impacted.”
About 100 people are working around the clock excavating the site, which is located about four miles from the pump station in Hutchinson County, South Dakota, near the town of Freeman. They are still trying to pinpoint the extent and source of the spill.
“Landowners’ worst fears came true,” Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska, said to EcoWatch. “When you have a pipe running through your farm or ranch-land all you think about is: it could break today.”
It all started when a neighbor told local landowner Loren Schultz about a strange-looking substance on his property. Schultz then found oil in surface water near the Keystone pipeline and promptly reported the leak.
“They thought it looked like oil so they called me. I went down there, looked at it and definitely thought it was oil so I called TransCanada and I say within an hour and a half they had a guy out here,” Schultz said to Keloland TV.
By Sunday, TransCanada had shut down the pipeline, which runs from Alberta, Canada and goes to Steele City, Nebraska. ABC News discussed the importance of the oil transport system.
“The pipeline runs from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma, passing through the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. It’s part of a pipeline system that also would have included the Keystone XL pipeline had President Barack Obama not rejected that project last November. The Keystone pipeline can handle 550,000 barrels, or about 23 million gallons, daily. Cooper didn’t immediately know the status of the oil that normally would be flowing through the pipeline.”
The rest of the network is still operational.
“If we find out it’s something with the pipe then we’ll be looking at the type of repairs would take place. Understanding how that actually occurred as well so the work we’re doing here, we’re not back here later doing the same thing,” TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard said according to Keloland.
Despite not knowing the source of the leak, TransCanada stated that the spill has been “controlled” due to the shutdown of the pipeline, vales and pumping stations. Visual inspection has confirmed the vales are closed.
Despite this, environmental groups have criticized TransCanada over the oil spill, claiming that such accidents are an inevitable consequence in the transport of fossil fuels like crude oil.
The “disaster is a stark reminder that it’s not a question if a pipeline will malfunction, but rather a question of when,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, wrote in a statement quoted by CNN.
TransCanada has claimed it has found no significant environmental harm so far. State officials are monitoring the cleanup.
[Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images]