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TransCanada pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil near SD, ND border

Part of the TransCanada oil pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, and through most of the central United States, including North Dakota and South Dakota.

BRITTON, S.D. -- TransCanada Corp has shut down part of its Keystone pipeline after an estimated 210,000 gallons, or 5,000 barrels, of oil leaked in far northeast South Dakota early Thursday morning, Nov. 16.

The company said the spill occurred on private agricultural land near Amherst and Britton, S.D., which is about 35 miles northeast of Aberdeen and about 20 miles south of the North Dakota  border.

Crews shut down the pipeline about 6 a.m. after a drop in pressure was detected about 15 minutes earlier in its operating system, according to the company’s website.

No reason for the leak has been given so far and an investigation is underway.

The pipeline runs from Alberta in Canada to the U.S. border and then straight south through eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and then into Nebraska and Kansas to Cushing, Okla. This northern leg has been closed, said the company, but the southern leg of the system from Cushing to the Gulf Coast remains operational.

The company said the spill area was completely isolated within 15 minutes and emergency response procedures were activated.

TransCanada emergency and safety crews, as well as contracted, nationally recognized experts are assessing the situation, with ongoing reports to federal officials, said the company. Emergency responders were still arriving later in the day Thursday.

TransCanada officials said they also are getting support from local officials, area emergency response personnel and commissioners in Marshall County, as well as the landowner who has given permission to access land for assessment, identification and cleanup activities.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said they don’t believe the leak has affected surface water in the area or the Dakota aquifer, which is about 800 feet to 900 feet underground at the site.  

Walsh said there could be other, more-shallow groundwater that may have been affected, although that hasn’t been determined and maps show there aren’t any shallow aquifers at the site.

He said one of the department’s staff members is at the site.

TransCanada is responsible for the cleanup, said Walsh, and must follow state regulations. The cleanup will involve excavating the affected soil, exposing and repairing the pipeline, and seeing if any of the possible shallow groundwater was affected.

A leak and spill in southeastern South Dakota in April 2016 prompted a weeklong shutdown of the pipeline, Walsh said. TransCanada estimated that it was a much smaller oil leak at just under 400 barrels, or 17,000 gallons. It was also on private land. Federal regulators said a bad weld on the pipeline was to blame. No waterways or aquifers were affected.

TransCanada said then that the leak was the first detected on the pipeline since it began operating in 2010, although there were some problems at pumping stations where smaller leaks occurred.