EDINBURG, N.D. — The Keystone Pipeline oil spill in Walsh County has released 9,120 barrels, or 383,040 gallons, of oil into a wetlands area, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday, Oct. 31.
Pipeline operator TC Energy said that as of Wednesday evening, the oil had not migrated beyond the immediately affected area of about 2,500 square yards in a rural wetland area 3 miles northwest of Edinburg.
Walsh County Emergency Manager Brent Nelson said the oil initially sprayed out of the ground and spread in the area near where the leak happened.
“(It was) basically like a whale blowing out its water up into the air,” he explained. “If you see the site, you can see where it got caught in the wind and drifted over.”
Representatives from TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, but crews continued to work with state environmental officials to determine the cause of the spill, according to a release from NDDEQ.
Emergency officials said it’s believed a computer system shut down the pipe almost immediately late Tuesday night after it detected pressure decrease at about 10:20 p.m.
TC Energy said Wednesday that the pipeline is shut down from Hardisty, Alberta, to a site in Oklahoma. The Keystone pipeline carries oil thousands of miles from the Canadian oil sands to refineries in Illinois and Texas.
Marla Zidon, who lives just half a mile away from the spill, said she could smell oil when she got home from work Wednesday.
“It was really heavy smelling,” she said, and remembered asking herself if it was going to “blow up.”
“It’s scary — never expected anything like this to happen,” she added.
The portion of the Keystone Pipeline that is leaking was buried in the ground about a decade ago. Zidon said she and her husband were never opposed to the project and that they've always felt safe living near the line — though a light hum served as a reminder of its presence.
North Dakota Division of Water Quality Director Karl Rockeman said that each oil spill is unique — some high-volume spills can impact a relatively small area, and vice versa. Compared to spills of a similar size, he said 2,500 square yards is considered a high-impact spill.
He said the last comparable spill in North Dakota was the Ash Coulee spill in 2016, when the Belle Fourche Pipeline spilled about 530,000 gallons into Ash Coulee Creek.
"That remediation is still ongoing," Rockeman said.
He added that state environmental quality officials will remain at the Walsh County spill to oversee remediation efforts, though he said it will likely be years before the affected wetland ecosystems will be fully restored.
The biggest spill in North Dakota’s history happened in September 2013, when a Tesoro-operated pipeline spilled 840,000 gallons of oil north of Tioga after being struck by lightning. Forum News Service previously reported remediation efforts cost $93 million and that pipeline owner Andeavor was fined $454,000 for the spill.
Walsh County Sheriff Ron Jurgens said his department is mainly working to help state officials and TC Energy by enforcing road closures and managing protesters, though he said there have yet to be any protests at the site.
While he said it's unclear exactly how long the area will be closed to traffic, Jurgens said residents can expect road closures for the foreseeable future.
"I'm sure it'll be months instead of weeks," he said.
Kandi Mosset-White, Native Energy and Climate Campaign coordinator for the Bemidji-based Indigenous Environmental Network, said her organization is still considering their steps forward in the wake of the news of the spill. She said, for her personally, every new spill makes her want to continue to step up the pressure against oil pipelines.
"We shouldn't become complacent," she said. "It's not OK that these things happen. It's not OK that there's a spill, that even when a company tells us that they have the highest technology available, it still fails. People shouldn't be OK with that."
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted about the spill Thursday afternoon, saying the Keystone Pipeline should never have been built and that as president he would shut it down.
This is what happens when we have a president who ignores scientists and puts short-term fossil fuel profits ahead of the environment and the future of the planet.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 31, 2019
As president, I will shut down the Keystone Pipeline that should never have been built in the first place. https://t.co/hZD5QhKo6k