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One year after Keystone Pipeline spill, no lasting impacts expected

Officials praised TC Energy for its "model" cleanup.

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Canada-based TC Energy spokesperson Robynn Tysver said on Monday, Nov. 4, the company has about 200 round-the-clock personnel at the site of the Keystone Pipeline oil spill focused on clean-up and remediation activities. Twelve vacuum trucks have been used to remove 4,300 barrels of oil, and heavy machinery is being used to remove the affected dirt near Edinburg, N.D. Tysver said the waste from the site will be sent to an approved facility for disposal, though she said it is unclear at this point where that facility will be. Photo by Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald.
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One year after the Keystone Pipeline spilled more than 383,000 gallons of crude oil onto rural Walsh County farmland, life has largely returned to normal for the surrounding communities.

The spill made a splash in national and international headlines, but locally, residents were generally unbothered by the spill, Walsh County Commissioner Dennis Skorheim recalled. Now that cleanup and remediation of the spill site has been largely completed, he foresees no long-term impacts -- good or bad -- to the community.

"After this was all said and done, and they were kind of on their way out, I said, 'May, you could put a pipeline across my land anytime you want,'" Skorheim said. "Because it was a first-rate job all the way through."

The spill occurred on Oct. 29, 2019, and was discovered the following day. Pipeline operator TC Energy shut the pipeline off immediately.

About 383,000 gallons were spilled on farmland outside Edingubrg, N.D. North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality investigators initially estimated that the spill impacted about a half-acre of land, but further investigation found that number was closer to more than 4 acres.

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It remains one of the largest crude oil spills in North Dakota's history.

Skorheim and NDDEQ Director Dave Glatt agreed that the TC Energy cleanup went as smoothly as it could have possibly gone, and both shared ample praise for the Canadian pipeline company.

After removing the contaminated soil, crews moved out of the area in April, Skorheim said. While contractors were there, locals were happy to have them, he said. The economic impact of the oil spill on the surrounding communities includes not only the dollars spent by workers, but a $70,000 grant from TC Energy to Walsh County, which was used to purchase speed limit signs and other safety equipment.

In August, TC Energy paid a $52,354 administrative penalty to NDDEQ for the spill. The penalty was relatively low, Glatt said, because of the swiftness and the efficiency with which the company shut off the pipeline and cleaned the affected land.

NDDEQ will continue to monitor the site for the next few years to ensure the land revegetates as normal and to monitor for any unexpected long-term impacts, though Glatt said he doesn't expect there will be any at that site. Nearby wetlands were unaffected by the spill, and the farmer who owns the land was able to put it to crop this season.

The cause of the spill has not yet been determined. The portion of the pipeline that failed is in possession of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which will release a report when the investigation has concluded. Glatt said investigations usually take about a year.

Though the impact of the spill on the land is small, its impact in the NDDEQ is expected to last: Glatt said that, after initial estimates about the acreage of the spill were so inaccurate, the department re-evaluated the best way to conduct those early investigations and make those initial calls.

"That was the one thing we stubbed our toe on, was the initial estimate of the areal extent of the contamination," Glatt said. "And that's what I said before, was just, take some time, make estimates that actually jive with what you actually see out there and feel. So that's probably the only thing, just reminded staff of attention to detail."

Related Topics: WALSH COUNTY
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