The Keystone Pipeline oil spill was evident in this aerial photo taken by John Davis of the Aberdeen American News. An estimated 210,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the line southeast of Amherst and cleanup efforts are now underway.
Oil Leak Puts Spotlight On MC
An oil spill southeast of Amherst has put Marshall County in the national headlines.
A leak in TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline was discovered early Thursday morning. Estimates were that 210,000 gallons of crude oil had spilled before the 2,687-mile pipeline was totally shut down. The line, constructed in 2010, transports crude oil from Canada to Oklahoma and Illinois.
TransCanada officials discovered the leak due to a decrease of pressure in the pipeline Thursday morning and shut down the operation within 15 seconds, according to Erik Tatorchuk, vice-president of operations of the liquid pipeline, who talked with the Marshall County Commission Tuesday morning.
Tatorchuk said there are 26,000 different sensors that monitor the pipeline and information is relayed to a central control room in Calgary, Canada, every five seconds via satellite.
“It’s like an EKG showing the health of our system,” said Tatorchuk.
“When it showed an increase in flow and decrease in pressure at the same time, we knew we had a serious problem and it shut down in less than 15 seconds so that there was no more pressure going in to move oil.”
The pipeline breach resulted in oil spraying around the break until the line was shut down. Aerial photographs show a circle of black which is primarily the oil residue left on the plant growth in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) field. Marshall County Emergency Management Director Todd Landmark said that when walking in the area oil can be seen on the ground but he said there are not pools of oil to be seen.
An Olympic-size swimming pool (50 meters by 25 meters) can give some perspective on how much oil was leaked. A pool would hold 660,000 gallons of oil, so the spilled oil would fill about a third of an Olympic-size pool.
Officials do not believe there is a danger of any of the oil contaminating ground water in the area. A drainage ditch is located nearby but a berm appears to have been a barrier to any contamination. Plans were to test that drainage ditch water on Tuesday.
Rod Kappes, General Manger of BDM Rural Water in Britton, said that he has no concerns.
“I feel very comfortable after talking with TransCanada and the South Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that the spill does not threaten the BDM Rural Water System in any way. The DENR has said there is no risk.”
Kappes said the closest BDM water line is over a mile away from the spill site and that the closest BDM well is about 14 miles away. The Middle James Aquifer supplies water to the BDM wells, and that aquifer is over two miles from the spill site.
TransCanada was fully mobilized for the cleanup by Monday afternoon, according to Jacque Benson, TransCanada Communications Specialist and public information officer for the site.
A road has been built to the site and all needed equipment is on site, including 10 vacuum trucks to suck up oil. A total of 165 specialists, experts, and trained technicians are now working on the cleanup 24 hours a day.
“Once we’ve sucked up the oil we will begin excavating today (Wednesday) or Thursday,” said Tatorchuk. “We will cut out the section of pipe where the leak occurred and that will be sent to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington, D.C., to be inspected down to the granular level so we can find out what happened. We will also restore the site so that you won’t even know we were out here.”
As work continues a better estimate of how much oil leaked will be possible. But Tatorchuk said, based on the fact that it was a sudden break and just four feet of soil are above the pipeline, that he expected that the total amount of leaked oil could be less than the 210,000-gallon estimate.
Landmark estimated that cleanup would likely continue until at least early January. He said that workers will dig down until they find clean soil and also dig out away from the leak until they find clean soil. All contaminated soil will be removed and replaced with clean soil. The pipeline is six feet deep in the ground.
Federal regulators, including a U.S Fish & wildlife official, are also on site to oversee the cleanup.
The area around the leak has been secured. Security personnel are located at all access points surrounding the leak and allow only workers to access the area. Benson did stress that the company is working closely with county commissioners, landowners, and area communities to get any questions answered.
TransCanada does not yet know the cause of the leak in Marshall County.
“We will do an extensive investigation to determine the cause,” noted Benson. “We want to do what we can to make sure this sort of incident is few and far between with a goal of zero incidents.”
Benson said that TransCanada has been working with local vendors to help support the staff on site. The Front Porch in Langford provided about 550 meals from Friday to Sunday, and parking lots of Britton motels have been full. Benson did say that the company is discussing moving in temporary housing at the site.
“We found out Friday about 10 a.m. that they needed food provided and we were feeding about 100 people every six hours,” said Front Porch Manager Suzie Easthouse. “TransCanada is under contract with a food service company that is now on site, but it was so spur-of-the-moment that they needed somebody on site right away.”
Easthouse said that providing that many meals was a team effort.
“I went about 56 hours without sleep, employee Angel McGregor was my angel this week, and board members really stepped up and helped out. Everybody kind of pulled together and got it done. And the guys out there were so nice and appreciative. A lot of them said this was the first job site they had been on when they had to worry about gaining weight.”