Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota were making their case against a handful of water permits this week in a process so contentious that it is being extended to additional meetings next month. Now, those opponents are pointing to a major spill in North Dakota to bolster their case.
The South Dakota Water Management Board met for three days this week and two more earlier in October before deciding to add more days of testimony in December. The hearings have drawn engineers and experts, along with at least a dozen groups and people who said they would be affected by the pipeline’s construction.
But in the midst of this week’s hearings, the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota leaked an approximate 383,000 gallons (1.4 million litres) in the northeastern part of the state, affecting a wetland. The cause of the leak is under investigation; meanwhile, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has asked pipeline owner TC Energy to review its inspection and monitoring of the line.
“When we’re sitting in a hearing room and people are saying these pipelines are safe, then this happens,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, which opposes the water permits.
TC Energy, which is also developing the Keystone XL, is applying for permits to tap the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers in South Dakota during construction. The water will be used for drilling to install pipe, build pump stations and control dust during construction. Two ranchers also applied for water permits to supply backup water to worker camps.
Though the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended approval, Keystone XL opponents view the permitting process as an opportunity to thwart the project — and the North Dakota spill as more reason to do so.
“Certainly it’s another example of the poor quality of construction and problems that we have seen repeatedly not only with the Keystone 1 but with the overall practices of this company that wants to build another pipeline through our state,” said Rebecca Terk, an organizer with Dakota Rural Action.
Sara Rabern, a spokeswoman for TC Energy, called it “unfortunate” that opponents would use the North Dakota spill to claim that Keystone XL will be unsafe.
“Our focus is and continues to safely build and operate a pipeline that delivers the energy we need each and every day,” Rabern said. “While this incident is unfortunate, it demonstrates our ability to respond quickly to clean up and repair the release while limiting the impact to the environment and our stakeholders. That is and will continue to be our priority.”
Opponents argue the pipeline construction will affect water supplies of several Native American tribes. Although the pipeline avoids any tribal land, it does affect water upstream of reservations. Tribal members also said they plan to raise how the pipeline construction may affect their spiritual practices and pose a threat to safety due to influxes of construction workers in small communities.
Pipeline opponents elsewhere have taken note of the Keystone spill, too. Opponents cited it in Minnesota as a reason against a proposed upgrade and expansion of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 in the northern part of the state. Winona LaDuke, an environmental activist from the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, said, “This latest spill proves once again that new pipelines are not necessarily safer.”
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted Thursday that he would shut down the Keystone pipeline if elected.
Keystone XL is planned as 1,184-mile line from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska that would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day. In Nebraska, it would connect with other lines that go to Gulf Coast Refineries.
The company plans to begin construction next year, though its opponents in South Dakota have other plans.
“We have a ways to go,” Terk said. “And three or four more days in December may not do it.”
Stephen Groves, The Associated Press