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TransCanada shuts down Keystone after leak in South Dakota

TransCanada has shut down its Keystone pipeline after a leak was discovered in South Dakota. 

Details are sparse at this time but at least one media outlet is indicating that it may have been a passerby that spotted the oil coming to the surface.

The National Observer reports “News of the oil seeping to the surface could be inconvenient for TransCanada, which is now trying to convince communities across Canada to accept its proposal for a gigantic new pipeline infrastructure project — the 4,600-kilometre Energy East pipeline.  “My understanding is that it was a passerby that observed it and called the company,” said Nelson, chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. If confirmed, this would mean that the company’s leak detection system failed to identify the incident.”

The Keystone pipeline was originally built to transport natural gas but was converted to crude oil service in 2010.  The Energy East project proposes to convert their forty year old Mainline natural gas pipeline to carry tar sands crude from Alberta through Ontario and then (in a newly built section of pipeline)  across Quebec to an export terminal in New Brunswick. The Energy East pipeline would be the largest in Canada and pump 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. It would also lead to an increase of CO2 emissions by about 32 million tonnes per year- the same as putting 7 million more cars on the road.

The National Observer article continues: “In the U.S., the federal watchdog for the industry – the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – alleged that the company had failed to operate Keystone safely after identifying 62 probable deficiencies on the pipeline, including “multiple anomalies” near St-Louis, Missouri.

One of the affected sections of the line suffered a 97 per cent loss of metal, near the Mississippi River, leaving a remaining wall thickness of 0.012 inches, the U.S. agency had said in a notice.”

The proposed capacity of Energy East is so great that even a leak of just 1.5% per day (which is under the detection limit of TransCanada’s control system) would produce a massive spill- up to 2.6 million litres for every day that the leak goes undetected. Given how remote much of the Energy East route is, an undetected leak could easily go on for weeks before it is noticed, potentially creating the worst oil spill in Canadian history.                                  

According to our recent report based on TransCanada’s safety record, Energy East pipeline would have a 15 per cent chance per year of rupturing- read the report here:  Quantifying Risk: Calculating the probability of an Energy East pipeline rupture.

“I found that TransCanada had a culture of non-compliance, deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes.”  Former TransCanada engineer Evan Vokes’ testimony before THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY, THE ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES- June 6th 2013