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Crews respond to 210,000-gallon oil spill from Keystone pipeline in South Dakota

Crews respond to 210,000-gallon oil spill from Keystone pipeline in South Dakota

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LINCOLN — Cleanup crews responded Thursday to a 5,000-barrel oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota just days before Nebraska officials announce the fate of a second major pipeline by the same operator.

The 210,000-gallon spill — about one-third of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool — occurred on private agricultural land in Marshall County, northeast of Aberdeen. It was detected about 6 a.m. when an operator for TransCanada Corp. noticed a drop in pressure.

The operator located the leak and shut down the 30-inch line, which has a capacity of 590,000 barrels per day, said Robynn Tysver, a spokeswoman for the company.

“We quickly isolated the pipe, turned it off in 15 minutes and have it contained,” she said.

The spill occurred as TransCanada is seeking approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission for the final section of a second pipeline project, the Keystone XL. The PSC will announce its long-awaited decision on the application Monday.

[Also read: Pipeline leak shouldn't influence Keystone XL decision, according to Nebraska law]

Pipeline opponents seized on Thursday’s spill to argue that Nebraska’s regulator should reject the Keystone XL route.

“The PSC must take note: There is no such thing as a safe tar sands pipeline,” said Kelly Martin with the Sierra Club.

It appears that the oil leaked from a section of the underground pipe and not at an above-ground pumping station, said Brian Walsh, a manager in the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

No streams or rivers have been contaminated, but it’s possible that shallow groundwater in the area could be affected, he added.

The state agency has sent an official to the site, Walsh said.

TransCanada dispatched two technicians to the remote area 3 miles southeast of Amherst and confirmed the spill within about two hours Thursday. Local, state and federal officials were notified.

The cause of the spill is being investigated but has not yet been determined, Tysver said. The pipeline will remain shut down for the time being.

What is sometimes called the Keystone 1 pipeline went into operation in 2010 to move tar sands crude oil from western Canada to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. A section of the pipeline enters eastern Nebraska at the South Dakota border and exits at Steele City.

The same pipeline leaked about 17,000 gallons last year near Freeman, South Dakota. Investigators determined that a weld problem was to blame in that spill.

joe.duggan@owh.com, 402-473-9587

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In a 3-2 vote, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the so-called “mainline alternative route” for the 36-inch crude oil pipeline, a slightly different path than the preferred route proposed by TransCanada. Opponents have promised to file lawsuits to challenge the project, and TransCanada has said it won’t decide until December if it has enough shippers to make the $8 billion project financially feasible.

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