Native Sun News: Spill affects Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

Disastrous flooding has hampered cleanup of toxic waste from Keystone 1 Pipeline spill of tar-sands crude-oil slurry at the pictured pumping station site in Sargent County near the Lake Traverse Reservation at the eastern edge of the North Dakota and South Dakota border. Aerial photo courtesy of Dakota Resource Council.

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SISSETON, SOUTH DAKOTA — Native American leaders renewed criticisms of the Canadian-owned Keystone 1 Pipeline and proposed Keystone XL Pipeline in the wake of the largest and most recent tar-sands crude-oil spill along the new route across eight Great Plains states.

“These tar-sands oil pipelines have been found to have serious safety risks,” said Marty Cobenais, pipeline organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

TransCanada Corp. announced that it shut down the Keystone 1 Pipeline on May 7, after North Dakota resident Bob Banderet reported seeing a six-story gusher of oil slurry spurting from a remote Sargent County pumping station in extreme eastern North Dakota, just one mile from the South Dakota state border.

“We reacted quickly, shutting down the line within a few minutes of detecting a drop in pressure, demonstrating our safety systems work effectively,” TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling said in a news release.

However, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, which administers the Lake Traverse Reservation, was not convinced.

“It sounds the alarm that there is no such thing as completely safeguarding oil drilling, pumping and delivery systems,” Chuck Floro editor of the tribal newspaper wrote in the May 18 issue of Sota Iya Ye Pi.

The Lake Traverse Reservation constitutes the tribal land closest of any to the spill. It spans seven counties in both North and South Dakota.

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate joined with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe in a 2008 lawsuit against former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for breaking treaty obligations, violating trust relationships and ignoring religious cultural protections by approving the Keystone 1 Pipeline.

Subsequent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton got the case dismissed, arguing the tribes lacked jurisdiction.

Then, in March she ordered an extended public comment period and Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline after the EPA rated the application for that second pipeline “environmentally unsatisfactory”.

North Dakota farmer Paul Mathews, who lives 1,500 feet from the Keystone 1 Pipeline and 10 miles north of the accident site, said the May 7 oil spill should be addressed in deliberations about permitting the second tar-sands crude oil pipeline.

“My wife said, ‘Paul that could have been our home; we would have been close enough to be hit by it,’” Mathews told the Native Sun News. “We should all treat that as a learning experience.”

On May 13, the North Dakota Public Service Commission ordered a formal investigation into the pipeline failure.

“I applaud the PSC for deciding to do an investigation,” said Mathews, a member of the non-profit Dakota Resource Council.

Keystone 1 runs across more than 1,000 miles from Alberta Province in Canada through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, where it turns east to Missouri and Illinois. Built through South Dakota in 2008 and 2009, it proceeds north-south through the counties of Marshall, Day, Clarke, Beadle, Kingsbury, Miner, Hanson, McCook, Hutchinson, and Yankton.

Keystone XL would run 2,000 miles from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would span Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, before connecting with the Keystone I Pipeline in Kansas, then proceeding on to the Gulf of Mexico through Oklahoma and Texas. From there the crude could be shipped overseas.

In South Dakota, the Keystone XL would stretch in a southeasterly direction across 313 miles through Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman, and Tripp counties.

Accidents spark cleanup, investigations
North Dakota Public Service commissioners said they opened a formal investigation in order to obtain sworn testimony about the incident, caused by a valve failure at the Ludden Pump Station, in the vicinity of Cogswell, population 99.

TransCanada restarted the pipeline flow the same day as the investigation order. The oil release was caused by a faulty three-quarter inch fitting, approximately the diameter of a garden hose, the company said.

More than 30 workers and their equipment recovered 393 barrels (about 16,500 gallons) of oil and other hazardous materials, out of an estimated total 500 barrels spilled, it said. Some 300 cubic yards of contaminated soil has to be transferred to an approved location and replaced with clean soil and gravel, it added.

The spill occurred on property of the company, and some oil mist drifted onto a nearby field, TransCanada said. The North Dakota Department of Health directed the cleanup.

“We have fully communicated details regarding the incident and our corrective actions to our U.S. regulator PHMSA in ensuring the steps we have taken will enable us to safely re-start the pipeline,” Girling said.

PHMSA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is expected to conduct its own investigation, according to state officials.

However the federal agency has not issued a statement on the situation. On May 12, the agency, which is part of the U.S. Transportation Department, released a notice that it has proposed a $425,000 fine for alleged safety violations by Kinder Morgan Products Pipelines in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, for a pipeline spill that occurred two years ago.

“We will hold pipeline operators accountable when they put the public or the environment at risk,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Pipeline operators must be vigilant about following safety regulations to prevent accidents and keep our communities safe without disrupting energy supplies.”

As a result of PHMSA’s investigation in New Jersey, the agency found a total of seven probable violations related to the accident. The violations included allegations that the company failed to have written startup and shutdown procedures, as well as failing to have other measures to detect abnormal operating conditions.

That accident caused the release of about 8,600 gallons of hazardous liquid into a dike containment area around the company’s Perth Amboy Terminal. “PHMSA is committed to making sure operators do not delay in assessing the integrity of their pipeline systems,” PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said.

(Talli Nauman is the NSN Health and Environment Editor and is a co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. Contact her at

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