An oil spill on the Keystone pipeline in northeastern North Dakota this week is the second significant leak in two years on a crude oil pipeline that opened less than a decade ago.
The Keystone pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the Midwest, appears to have ruptured on Tuesday and has since spilled an estimated 383,000 gallons of crude near the town of Edinburg, according to the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.
The Calgary-based company that operates the pipeline, TC Energy, said in a statement that the leak has affected about 22,500 square feet of land, or about a half-acre. The company said it’s working to discover the leak’s cause, as well as cleaning up the spill and repairing the pipeline.
State environmental regulators say the spill encroached on wetlands about 3 miles outside of Edinburg, which is about 70 miles northwest of Grand Forks.
In November 2017, the Keystone pipeline ruptured near Amherst, S.D., spilling 407,000 gallons of oil, though initial estimates pegged the leak at 210,000 gallons.
The probable cause of that spill was a “fatigue crack” from mechanical damage during the pipeline’s construction, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded last year. A metal-tracked vehicle likely caused the crack, which grew over time until the pipeline ruptured.
“It’s a valid question, two cracks on a fairly new pipeline — geez what’s going on?” said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts, a Washington state-based pipeline safety consulting firm.
Still, he cautioned that “age is not a predictor of pipeline failure. I have seen new pipelines that have really been abused and I have seen old pipelines that look like new.”
The Keystone pipeline is one of three large transnational pipeline systems that transport a particularly thick crude from Alberta’s oil sands, also called tar sands. The largest such system is run by Calgary-based Enbridge, and its main corridor of pipelines runs through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.
Enbridge is in the midst of a yearslong battle to build a new pipeline to replace its existing Line 3, which is aging, corroding and operating at only 51% capacity. Minnesota public utilities regulators approved new Line 3 last year. But the pipeline — fiercely opposed by environmental groups and some Ojibwe tribes — is still waiting for other permits.
The Keystone pipeline, which ferries oil to terminals in Oklahoma and southern Illinois, opened in 2010. TC Energy is trying to expand the Keystone system with its controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta through Montana and South Dakota to Steele City, Neb.This week’s North Dakota leak would rank in the Top 10 largest U.S. onshore oil spills since 2010. In that year, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in southwestern Michigan, spilling 834,000 gallons of Canadian crude. Enbridge’s last major spill in Minnesota was in 2002 when Line 3 failed near Cohasset, releasing 252,000 gallons of oil.